Last Thursday on April 6th, President Trump greatly increased US involvement in the Syrian Civil War by ordering over fifty tomahawk missile strikes on a Syrian Government Air Force Base, which killed many and heavily damaged the facility.
The American strike was a stern response to international accusations that the Syrian Regime, led by President Bashar al Assad, conducted horrific gas attacks on civilians on April 4th in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in the rebel-held Idlib Province. Photographs and videos released online showed the spread of a visible toxic gas after Syrian warplanes bombed rebel-held targets in the area. Images were also released showing victims, including multiple children, suffering and foaming at the mouth following the attack. In fact, the Turkish Health Ministry released a statement that identified the chemical used as the banned nerve agent sarin after they treated and tested many of the civilian victims.
Russia and Syria have strongly denied responsibility for chemical attacks, insisting that the dangerous toxins belonged to the rebels and were released unintentionally as a result of the damage sustained by the airstrikes. Syria’s foreign minister was quick to deny the attack, stating “The Syrian Army has not, did not and will not use this kind of weapons, not just against our own people, but even against the terrorists that attack our civilians with their mortar rounds”. In fact, the Russian deputy envoy to the UN questioned whether such an attack even occurred, suggested that the images and video posted online were old footage or even entirely fake.
However, there is no evidence to suggest that a chemical weapons facility even existed at the targeted locations or that the recorded footage was fabricated. In fact, Assad has used chemical weapons before during the civil war, causing then-President Obama to threaten a military intervention and Russia to force Assad to surrender his stockpiled nerve agents to the UN.
Regardless of who is blame for the attack, the devastation was enough to convince President Trump that action was needed, who called the attacks a disgrace to humanity and state that “even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack”. Notably, the American strike on the military base that conducted the operation, the al-Shairat Airbase, took place while Trump was having a diplomatic dinner with the Chinese President Xi Jinping. Many see this as a warning to the Chinese that Trump is willing to act unilaterally on international issues like North Korea. However, in order to avoid an international controversy, the US took action to warn Russia the morning before the attack occurred, allowing them to evacuate all of their troops and aircraft stationed at the targeted base.
Nevertheless, the attack now further strains relations between the US and Syria, putting at risk the hundreds of US troops deployed in Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria who are assisting Kurdish forces in advancing towards the ISIS stronghold of Al-Raqqah. Russia, which remarkably chose not to intercept any American tomahawk missiles with its anti-air defense systems, has condemned the US strikes and suspended a previous agreement between the US and Russia that helped avoid in-flight incidents between their respective military aircraft conducting missions in Syria. Once again, it is difficult to predict the future ramifications for these actions, but experts agree that the situation in Syria is only becoming increasingly complicated as time goes on.