President: "Precision strikes" now underway against Syria

Image Source: White House / Roderick Eubanks / DVIDS / MGN
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- UPDATE: 9:10 p.m.

Defense Secretary James Mattis says the U.S. and its allies have taken "decisive action" against Syrian chemical weapons infrastructure.

Mattis briefed reporters at the Pentagon Friday an hour after President Donald Trump announced the strike. He said military strikes in Syria are "directed at the Syrian regime" and they have "gone to great lengths to avoid civilians and foreign casualties."

Mattis says the United States, along with France and the United Kingdom, struck because Syrian President Bashar Assad "did not get the message" when the U.S. launched airstrikes after a chemical attack in 2017.

The defense secretary says Friday's strikes have "sent a clear message" to Assad and his "murderous lieutenants." He asked that "responsible nations" join in condemning the Assad regime.

Friday night, President Donald Trump spoke to the nation announcing the U.S. "launched precision strikes" on targets associated with the Syrian chemical weapons programs.

"A short time ago, I ordered the U.S. Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad," said the President.

The President said the U.S. strikes on Syria, were launched in concert with British, French allies.

Trump said last Saturday, Assad deployed chemical weapons in what was a "significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime."

"In 2013, President Putin guaranteed the elimination of Assad's chemical weapons. Today's response is the direct response to Russia's failure," said Trump.

He added the the U.S. and it's allies are prepared for "sustained" response until Syrian government stops use of chemical weapons.

Trump said he has asked U.S. partners "to take greater responsibility for securing their home region, including contributing large amounts of money for the resources, equipment and all of the anti-ISIS effort."

He said increased engagement from countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Egypt can ensure that Iran does not profit from the defeat of the Islamic State group.

But he said America does not seek "an indefinite presence" in Syria and will look to pull out its troops once the Islamic State is totally defeated.

Shortly after President Trump announce airstrikes, Syria's capital has been rocked by loud explosions that lit up the sky with heavy smoke.

Associated Press reporters in Damascus saw smoke rising from east Damascus early Saturday morning local time.

Witnesses saw blasts surrounding much of the Syrian capital and a huge fire could be seen from a distance to the east. An AP reporter in Damascus says the attacks turned the sky orange. Syrian television reported that a scientific research center had been hit.

Syrian media reported that Syrian defenses hit 13 rockets south of Damascus. After the attack ceased and the early morning skies went dark once more, vehicles with loudspeakers roamed the streets of Damascus blaring nationalist songs.

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