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Debates Ensue After Western Missiles Hit Syria

A surface-to-air missile lit up the sky in Damascus early Saturday morning after President Trump announced airstrikes would be launched to deter the Syrian government for allegedly using chemical weapons.
Hassan Ammar
A surface-to-air missile lit up the sky in Damascus early Saturday morning after President Trump announced airstrikes would be launched to deter the Syrian government for allegedly using chemical weapons.

The U.S., France and the U.K. targeted chemical weapons sites in Syria early Saturday. Since the launch of more than 100 missiles, a war of words has ensued.

A group of Russian lawmakers who met with Syrian President Bashar Assad said he considered the airstrikes an act of aggression, but also that Assad was in a "good mood," Reuters reported. Russian news agencies quoted a lawmaker who said that the airstrikes would unify the country, the Associate Press reported.

There has also been debate over how the missiles fared across the sky. The Russia military claimed that Syria's air defenses shot down some of the missiles launched by Western forces. But the U.S. Department of Defense said on Saturday that none of the missiles were downed.

At a Saturday press briefing, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. said, "None of our aircraft or missiles involved in this operation were successfully engaged by Syrian air defenses, and we have no indication that Russian air-defense systems were employed. We are confident that all of our missiles reached their targets. At the end of the strike mission, all our aircraft safely returned to their bases."

In a Sunday Telegraph opinion piece, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson reinforced U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May's statement that the strikes were not about meant to drive regime change or interference in Syria's civil war.

Johnson said the missiles were launched to degrade and deter the Assad regime's ability to deploy chemical weapons. He wrote, "If we do nothing there will be other people and other governments around the world who will look at the impunity of Assad and ask themselves: they got away with it - why shouldn't I?"

He also said that despite Syria's commitment in 2013 to destroying its chemical arsenal — and Russia's promise to supervise to it – "the Assad Regime and Russia has made a complete mockery of that pledge."

Meanwhile, the leader of Britain's opposition party, Jeremy Corbyn, described Saturday's strike as a "legally questionable attack." He said that Parliament should have been consulted before the attacks occurred.

In the days leading up to the U.S.-led airstrike, both Syria and Russia said that reports of the chemical attack were fabricated. The Russian government accused the U.K. of staging the attack, which the British government says is "ludicrous."

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a written statement on Friday that an onslaught of fake information would be coming. "Based on recent experience, we fully expect a significant disinformation campaign over the coming days by those who have aligned themselves with the Assad regime," Mattis said.

Jasmine el-Gamal, the Pentagon's Syria country director during the Obama administration, told NPR's Weekend Edition on Sunday that the strikes were successful because they showed that President Trump was following through on his commitment. She said that the missile strikes should be expanded. "We are actually telling Assad that it's okay to kill Syrians in any other way but through chemical weapons."

Meanwhile early on Sunday morning, President Trump tweeted, "The Syrian raid was so perfectly carried out, with such precision, that the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term 'Mission Accomplished.' I knew they would seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term, it should be brought back. Use often!"

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said on Sunday that new sanctions on Russia will be announced Monday. "They will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use," she said in an interview with CBS' Face the Nation.

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Sasha Ingber is a reporter on NPR's breaking news desk, where she covers national and international affairs of the day.
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