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 warplanes took off from the damaged air base targeted by the strike, according to the Syrian Human Rights Observatory.
The US strike, retaliation for a chemical attack in northeastern Syria that killed at least 80 people earlier this week, targeted “aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars” at Shayrat air base, according to a Pentagon statement.
But Syria and its Russian backers have many air bases and lots of military infrastructure in the country.
The US intentionally launched a limited strike, which was too small and focused to realistically prevent Syrian forces from flying military aircraft in their country.
“The US took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict,” said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. “Every precaution was taken to execute this strike with minimal risk to personnel at the airfield.”
Images of the aftermath of the strike released by the Pentagon show that the air base’s runways – which the US suspects Syrian forces used to launch the aircraft that carried out the deadly chemical attack – were unharmed by the cruise missiles, while aircraft hangars bore the brunt of the damage.
- DigitalGlobe/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense
Despite being warned about the strike and suffering no casualties, Russia responded by suspending military communications and agreements with the US, increasing the risk that an accidental clash of US and Russian forces, who operate close to each other in Syria, could escalate into a larger conflict.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the move put the US and Russia “one step away” from clashing.
After the strike, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian rebel groups called for more US action against Syrian government forces.
According to Reuters, Nikki Haley, the US’s ambassador to the UN, told an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Friday that the US was “prepared to do more” against the Assad regime, “but we hope that will not be necessary.”
“The United States will not stand by when chemical weapons are used,” she said. “It is in our vital national security interest to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons.”