WASHINGTON (CIRCA) - President Trump followed through on his promise to retaliate against the Syrian government for its use of chemical weapons against civilians with an air strike on Friday.
U.S. forces worked in conjunction with French and British allies to strike various targets associated with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons program. The Assad regime is believed to have used chemical weapons against civilian targets in the city of Douma, northeast of the Syrian capital of Damascus.
"It demanded a response," Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told reporters during a briefing on Saturday morning. "We will not stand by passively, while Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, ignores international law."
White was joined by Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the U.S. military Joint Staff, who provided a detailed look at the operation.
The strikes were carried out at 4:00 AM Syrian time (9:00 PM EST), and struck three targets using more than 100 missiles. British, French, and U.S. naval and air forces located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea were utilized in the attack. The operation lasted approximately two hours.
McKenzie described the attack as "precise, overwhelming, and effective."
Officials described Friday night's attack as double the size of the Trump administration previous attack on the Assad regime in April 2017. They also noted that the sheer volume of weapons and units involved in the attack overwhelmed the Syrian air defense system.
No coalition assets were lost in the attack, according to the Pentagon. Russia, a key Assad ally, reportedly did not deploy in defense of the regime, despite threatening to shoot down any missiles launched in a potential U.S. strike.
The only Syrian response came after the coalition weapons hit their targets. The Assad regime fired 40 surface-to-air missiles in the air, though McKenzie noted they were unguided and did not have any effect on coalition forces.
"No Syrian weapon had any effect on what we did," said McKenzie. "The Syrian response was remarkably ineffective."
The first target was a scientific research facility in Damascus known as the Barzah research center. U.S. officials believe the facility was engaged in research, development, and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology. Barzah took the brunt of the assault, with 57 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 19 stand off missiles striking the facility.
"We believe by hitting Barzah, we have hit the heart of the Syrian chemical weapons program," said McKenzie.
The military's ability to strike in the heart of Damascus was especially important, according to McKenzie, considering the city is one of the most heavily defended areas in the world.
The second target was the Him Shinshar chemical weapons storage facility near Homs, a city in western Syria which has been a major battleground in the now seven-year-long Syrian civil war.
Officials said 22 weapons from all three coalition members landed on the storage area.
The final target was a chemical weapons bunker, also located near Him Shinshar. Seven missiles hit this facility, according to the Pentagon.
Friday's strike was unique compared to Trump's last attack on Syria because of the fact it targeted the program's facilities and weapons themselves. Last years attack targeted an airbase, which temporarily delayed Assad's ability to deliver those weapons.
McKenzie described the strike as a "severe blow" to Assad's chemical weapons program, but he noted there are some components that remain.
White and McKenzie noted that the strike targets and the timing was designed in such a way to reduce collateral damage. McKenzie noted that the Pentagon was not aware of any civilian casualties at the time of the briefing.
Questions still remain regarding hard evidence proving Assad's responsibility for the chemical attack earlier this month. However, White noted that the regime has prevented international inspectors from reviewing the site. Additionally, the Assad regime has a track record of engaging in similar attacks before, and has the means, motive and capabilities to follow through. Defense Secretary James Mattis was reportedly confident the regime was the perpetrator.
"A lot of this has to do with intelligence," White told reporters. "I am happy to show evidence if I can."
What reponse Assad, or his Iranian or Russian allies, will take remains to be seen. That said, Mattis warned Friday night to expect the Russian disinformation campaign to be in full swing after the strikes. His prediction came true.
"There has been a 2,000 percent increase in Russian trolls in the past 24 hours," said White.
She also noted that while the attack was the right thing to do, it did not represent a change in U.S. policy in Syria. She reiterated the administration's desire for a negotiated settlement, and that destroying ISIS remains the U.S. priority in the region.
That said, the administration has hinted that Friday's strike might not be the last U.S. action taken against Assad.
"What happens next has everything to do with what the Assad regime decides to do," said White.