Less than 24 hours after two US Navy destroyers pulled up to Syria’s Mediterranean coast and let fly a blistering salvo of 59 cruise missiles, Syrian war planes took off from the damaged airbase targeted by the strike, according to the Syrian Human Rights observatory.
The US strike, a retaliation to a chemical weapons attack in northeastern Syria that killed 80 earlier this week, targeted “aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defence systems, and radars” at Sharyat airbase, according to a Pentagon statement.
But Syria, and its Russian backers, have many airbases and lots of military infrastructure in the country.
The US intentionally launched a limited strike on Syria as punishment for the use of chemical weapons, which was too small and focused to realistically prevent Syrian forces from flying military aircraft in their own country.
“The US took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict. Every precaution was taken to execute this strike with minimal risk to personnel at the airfield,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said.
Images of the aftermath of the strike released by the Pentagon show that the runways, which the US suspects Syrian forces used to launch the aircraft that carried out the deadly attack, went unharmed by the cruise missiles, while aircraft hangars bore the brunt of the damage.
Despite being warned about the strike, and suffering no casualties, Russia responded by suspending military communications and agreements with the US, thereby increasing the risk that an accidental clash between US and Russian forces, who operate close to each other in Syria, could escalate into a larger conflict.
Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev said the move put the US and Russia “one step away” from war.
Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN told an emergency Security Council meeting on Friday that the US is “prepared to do more,” against the Assad regime “but we hope that will not be necessary,” according to Reuters.
“The United States will not stand by when chemical weapons are used. It is in our vital national security interest to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons,” said Haley.
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