Donald Trump says US “locked and loaded” if Syria uses poison gas again after air strikes 'cripple' chemical weapons programme
Trump issued the threat through his UN ambassador just hours after the US, UK and France launched coordinated air strikes in retaliation over a suspected chemical attack in rebel-held territory in Syria.
Downing Street said the strikes were legal and justified in an effort to avert a “humanitarian catastrophe”, while accusing Syria’s allies, including Russia, of blocking international aid efforts.
Amid the political fallout, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, claimed the strikes crippled Syria’s chemical weapons programme and warned that America is prepared to strike again if necessary.
She told the UN Security Council: “We are confident that we have crippled Syria’s chemical weapons programme. We are prepared to sustain this pressure, if the Syrian regime is foolish enough to test our will.
“If the Syrian regime uses this poison gas again, the United States is locked and loaded.”
Earlier, Trump had declared “mission accomplished” after more than 100 missiles were fired at Syrian chemical weapons facilities in an effort to prevent further attacks.
Trump, Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone on Saturday and hailed the strikes as a “success”.
Downing Street has published a document setting out how the action was legal and justified, saying the strikes were launched to avert a “humanitarian catastrophe”.
Russia claims the strikes against Syria were illegal and Syrian air defences had intercepted 71 of the 105 missiles fired, and later failed in its bid to have the UN Security Council condemn the action.
The Pentagon said it was “confident” that all 105 missiles struck their targets, and Syria had fired 40 unguided surface-to-air missiles after the Western strikes had ended.
The missiles targeted three chemical weapons facilities including a research and development centre in Damascus’ Barzeh district and two buildings near Homs, the Pentagon said.
US Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters: “We believe that by hitting Barzeh in particular we’ve attacked the heart of the Syrian chemicals weapon programme.”
But he cautioned that elements of the programme are still intact and Syria could still carry out a chemical attack in the future.
There were no reports of casualties following the strikes, with Damascus’ allies saying the sites had been evacuated in advance.
Experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in Syria’s capital Damascus on Saturday to begin an investigation into the April 7 suspected sarin and chlorine attack in Douma.
WARNING: DISTRESSING IMAGES
The attack killed up to 75 people, with the US, UK and France concluding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government was to blame for gassing its own people in the Damascus suburb.
A Trump administration official told reporters that the US believes sarin and chlorine were used in the attack.
Reporters were also told that Saturday’s joint bombing campaign had destroyed some material that could have been used to produce chemical weapons such as sarin.
Trump, May and Macron spokes by phone and agreed the action had been a “success”, a Downing Street spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said: “In separate calls, the Prime Minister this afternoon spoke with President Macron and President Trump.
“The three leaders agreed that the military strikes taken against the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons sites had been a success.
“The Prime Minister welcomed the public support which had been given by fellow world leaders for the strong stand the UK, France and the United States had taken in degrading Syria’s chemical weapons capability and deterring their use, defending global rules, and sending a clear message that the use of chemical weapons can never become normalised.”
Earlier, May had told reporters the strikes – launched without Parliament’s consent – were not an attempt to topple the Assad government and it was “right and legal to take military action”.
She added: “We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised – either within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere.”
The French presidency said in a statement: “It is now for the United Nations Security Council, in unity, to take initiative again political, chemical and
humanitarian questions in Syria.”
Four RAF Tornado GR4 jets from the Akrotiri base in Cyprus fired Storm Shadow missiles at a base 15 miles west of Homs.
The Tornado has a maximum speed of Mach 1.3 and has also seen action in Libya and Afghanistan, but is due to be retired next year after four decades of service.
Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the US, UK and France told his envoys that the air strikes were a last resort to stop more chemical attacks.
He said the three allies briefed Nato ambassadors and won support from the other 26 Nato members.
He added: “We will never have a total guarantee against new attacks as long as we have regimes which are willing to use chemical weapons. Chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity and cannot be normalised.”
Nato has called on Syria and its allies Russia and Iran to allow “unhindered” humanitarian access to areas targeted in the seven-year civil war which has left about half a million people dead and millions displaced.
Later Saturday, the UN Security Council rejected a Russian resolution that would have condemned the strikes as an act of “aggression” that violated international law and the UN charter.
A draft resolution had the support of only Russia, China and Bolivia and failed to pass.
Eight countries voted against the draft and four abstained.
A resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the UK, China, France, Russia or the US to pass.
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