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Mission accomplished? The US, UK and France's bombing of Syria - explained

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On Friday night, US-led forces targeted a number of Syrian locations with air strikes. Here, we break down everything you need to know.

Anna Freeman

16 Abril 2018 17:36

On Saturday morning, the world awoke to the news that the United States, the UK and France had launched ‘targeted’ airstrikes in Syria. US President Donald Trump proclaimed: ‘Mission accomplished!’

The anticipated strike came a week after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons against civilians just outside Damascus, murdering at least 42 people, including children. Trump - who had the previous week announced that he would be withdrawing troops from Syria - warned that Assad’s actions would come with a ‘big price’.

Deliberation about how to respond to Assad’s regime of terror, backed by Russia and Iran, consumed the Western political agenda. Two large questions dominated the discussion: Would strikes cause yet more suffering and death to the Syrian people? And could it escalate prospects of an all-out war with Russia and Iran.

In true Trumpian style, the US president called on America’s allies to act via Twitter. He cancelled a scheduled tour of South America to focus his efforts on a Syria response. Without prior confirmation, American forces and its allies hit three targets related to Syria’s chemical weapons programme: a research centre, a storage facility, and an equipment facility and command post.

Although touted as a one-time offensive by the allies’ leaders, Trump said the US was ‘prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents’. President Emmanuel Macron of France said a ‘red line’ had been crossed by the Assad regime, therefore strikes were a necessary deterrent. British Prime Minister Theresa May said overnight strikes were ‘right and legal’.

Other European leaders, such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, have expressed lukewarm support for their European counterparts, without agreeing to take direct action themselves. However, as expected, the move has gone down like a lead balloon with Moscow and Iran.

Russia warned of ‘consequences’ after the attacks, with Russian President Vladimir Putin calling the strikes an ‘act of aggression’ that carries the potential to ‘have a destructive effect on the entire system of international relations’. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the strikes a ‘crime’. Concerns have therefore been raised about a possible retaliation from the united Assad forces against American soldiers.

Friday night’s strikes come at a particularly tumultuous time for relations between Russia and the Western bloc. Not only has Russian meddling in the 2016 US election grabbed headlines since Trump was elected, but the poisoning of former Russian spy, Sergei V. Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, with a weapons-grade nerve agent in southern England has caused further animosity.

Britain’s May was most likely eager to throw support behind Trump because of US backing of the expulsion of Russian diplomats from their positions, and also to reassert the country’s power on the world stage. With Brexit looming ahead, the UK’s reputation as a global force is dwindling.

As for Macron, his claims today that he convinced Trump into taking strike action is a clever political move. The president has re-emphasised his position as a broker between Russia and the US, as well as staking claim to France’s stance on enforcing international treaties, including the Chemical Weapons Convention that 192 countries have signed.

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