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Posted: April 06, 2017

US fires more than 50 cruise missiles into Syria

Alex Brandon/AP
President Donald Trump speaks at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Thursday, April 6, 2017, after the U.S. fired a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria Thursday night in retaliation for this week's gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The United States attacked a Syrian air base with roughly 60 cruise missiles in response to a chemical weapons attack it blames on President Bashar Assad Thursday evening.

At least six people were killed in the air strike, according to a televised statement by the Syrian’s Armed Forces General Command. Talal Barazi, the governor of the Homs province, told The Associated Press that seven others were wounded.

A Syrian opposition monitor said the attack killed four soldiers, including a general. The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than a dozen hangars, a fuel depot and an air defense base were damaged.

>> Read more trending news

President Donald Trump said the attack on a Syrian air base was in the nation's "vital national security interest."

"Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children," Trump said.

>> Read: Full transcript of Trump's speech on US Syria strike

Tomahawk missiles were fired from two warships in the Mediterranean Sea, targeting a government-controlled air base in Syria, officials say. 

>> What is a Tomahawk cruise missile and what does it do?

U.S. officials said Syrian government aircraft killed dozens of civilians by using chlorine mixed with a nerve agent, possibly sarin, earlier this week. 

Syrian state TV reported a U.S. missile attack on a number of military targets and called the attack an "aggression."

The Associated Press contributed to this report


Syrian civil war: Why are they fighting in Syria?

What started as a protest by Syrian citizens against high unemployment and lack of access to the political process has become one of the Middle East’s nastiest conflicts.

Since it’s start some seven years ago, the Syrian civil war has seen 465,000 killed,  more than 1 million injured and 12 million displaced.

What cased the uprising, what started the conflict? Here is what led to war in Syria.

What caused the uprising?

While lack of freedoms and economic woes drove resentment of the Syrian government, the harsh crackdown on protesters inflamed public anger.

Here’s a look at the Syrian civil war, what the rebels want to achieve and the toll the conflict has taken on the country.

What is the fighting about?

Syria has been embroiled in a civil war for more than seven years. The fighting, which began in March 2011 in Deraa, moved to the area in and around Aleppo in 2012 and has been fierce and constant there since then.

What started the war?

Syrians have long complained about corruption in their government, and the reign of the ruling al-Assad family, according to The Associated Press. Bashar al-Assad, has been leading the country since he succeeded his father, Hafez, when Hafez died in 2000.

According to the BBC, many believe the Arab Spring movements in other Middle East countries inspired the uprising in Deraa. When the government used overwhelming force to combat demonstrations in Deraa, the rebel movement gained support from Syrians opposed to Assad.

Who is fighting?

The troops of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are fighting insurgent troops known as rebels who are trying to overthrow Assad’s government.  

Why hasn’t the government been able to defeat the rebels? 

For a number of reasons – the main one being the intervention of other countries and groups. According to the New York Times, Russia, the United States, Iran and Saudi Arabia have all played roles in the war as has the Islamic State terror organization. 

Russia and Iran support Assad’s Shia government, while the United States and Saudi Arabia have – to some degree – backed rebel Sunni forces. 

How bad has the fighting been?

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died. In the city of Aleppo alone, anywhere from 250,000 to 270,000 people have been killed, according to humanitarian organizations and United Nation estimates. The U.N. stopped counting casualties in August of 2015.

Nearly 5 million people have fled the country, many of them women and children. They have tried to relocate in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and other Western countries, including the United States. The U.N. says 6.5 million people are internally displaced, meaning they are trying to find a safe haven from the fighting inside Syria, itself.

The United States and other countries have charged Assad with horrific acts during the civil war, ranging from the use of chemical weapons to mass slayings in the streets.

What kind of fighting has been seen?

In December, government forces launched a last brutal push to retake the major city of Aleppo. Pro-government forces killed 82 civilians "on the spot" as they closed in on the last rebel enclave in the city, The Associated Press reported.

According to the AP: “U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says opposition forces control just 5 percent of eastern Aleppo and the U.N. has received "credible reports" of civilians killed by intense bombing and summary executions by pro-government forces.”

When government forces retook Aleppo, there were reports of other mass killings, including reports that children were burned alive. These reports have not been independently confirmed.  

Sources: The BBC; The New York Times; The Associated Press

 Watch next: What is sarin gas? 

What is a Tomahawk cruise missile and what does it do?

Tomahawk missiles are highly accurate weapons. The modern version was first used by the United States in the 1991 Gulf War.

>> Read more trending news

Here’s what you need to know about Tomahawk missiles:

What are they?

Tomahawk missiles are subsonic, jet engine-powered missiles. They fly low, about 100 feet off the ground.

Where are they launched from?

Tomahawks can be launched from many surfaces, but the U.S. generally uses ships or submarines to launch the missiles. 

How much do they cost?

Each missile cost $1.41 million.

Who makes them?

Raytheon Systems Company makes the Tomahawk Block IV.

How fast can they fly?

The missiles travel at 550 miles per hour.

How big are they?

The Tomahawk is a 20-foot-long missile, and weighs 2,900 pounds. It has a wingspan of eight feet,  nine inches. It carries a 1,000-pound-class warhead.

How accurate are they?

According to the Navy, they hit their target about 85 percent of the time. How do they find their target?

The missile uses a system called "Terrain Contour Matching." An altimeter along with an inertia detector direct the Tomahawk along a flight path against a pre-loaded map of the terrain. They are unlike drones as they are not guided by pilots on the ground. According to Raytheon, “The latest variant (Tomahawk Block IV) includes a two-way satellite data-link that enables the missile to be retargeted in flight to preprogrammed, alternate targets. The Block IV design was initiated as both a cost savings and a capability improvement effort.”

Is the United States the only country with cruise missiles?

No. More than 70 nations have cruise missiles.

Sources: The U.S. Navy; Popular Science; Raytheon

What is sarin nerve gas?

A Syrian air base was struck by missiles before dawn on Monday, a little more than 24 hours after an alleged chemical attack near Damascus that the West has blamed on Syrian government forces.

>> Read more trending news

One nerve agent that has been repeatedly used during the Syrian war is sarin gas.

What is sarin?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sarin is a nerve agent that appears as a clear, colorless liquid and is generally odorless and tasteless. 

What does it do?

Sarin can cause death in minutes after exposure and interferes with the nervous system and sends the bodies of those affected into constant activity.  The main cause of death from exposure to the agent is acute respiratory distress, according to the World Health Organization.

How do people get exposed to it?

The deadly agent can contaminate water, food and be released into indoor and outdoor air as a vapor or liquid spray, which might also affect agricultural products, according to the CDC. It can be absorbed into the body by eye or skin contact and inhalation. Ingestion is also possible, but less common.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

U.S. strike on Syria: What we know now 

On Thursday, the United States attacked a government-controlled air base in Syria, responding to a chemical weapons attack that U.S. officials blamed on Syria President Bashar al-Assad. Six people were killed in the airstrike, according to a televised statement by the Syrian's Armed Forces General Command. Talal Barazi, the governor of Homs province, told The Associated Press that seven others were wounded.

>> US fires more than 50 cruise missiles into Syria

>> Read more trending news

A Syrian opposition monitor said the attack killed four soldiers, including a general. The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than a dozen hangars, a fuel depot and an air defense base were damaged.

The strike took place at 8:40 p.m. ET (3:40 a.m. local time), CNN reported. It targeted aircraft, aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and "the things that make the airfield operate," Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters. The missiles were launched from warships in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Russia reacts: The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that the U.S. strike is an "aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law.” Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Friday's statement carried by Russian news agencies that Putin believes that the U.S. has dealt the strikes under "far-fetched pretext.” Earlier, Konstantin Kosachev, the head of Russia’s foreign affairs committee in the Kremlin-controlled upper house of parliament, said on his Facebook page that a U.S.-Russian anti-terror coalition has been “put to rest without even being born.” 

Trump addresses nation: President Donald Trump said that “it is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons. The president said that Assad’s attack on Tuesday “choked out the lives of innocent men, women and children,” causing them to suffer “a slow and brutal death.” “Tonight I call on all civilized nations to join us in ending the bloodshed in Syria,” Trump said. Read the full transcript of Trump’s speech here.

>> Read: Full transcript of Trump’s speech on US Syria strike

Syria protests action: Syria criticized the attack, calling it an “aggression” that led to “losses.” Rebel forces welcomed the U.S. attack. The Syrian Coalition said it puts an end to an age of "impunity" and should be just the beginning.

Saudis, Israelis laud move: Saudi Arabia called Trump’s move a “courageous decision.” The state-run Saudi Press said Friday blamed Assad’s government for the attack, saying that the missile launch was the right response to “the crimes of this regime to its people in light of the failure of the international community to stop it.” Danny Danon, Israel's ambassador to the U.N., said the U.S. sent a "significant message" to the region and beyond. He called it “a moral decision that delivered a triple message.”

British support: The British government said it “fully supports” the U.S. action, a Downing Street spokesman told Reuters.

French disconnection: French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen says Trump is trying to be the "world's policeman" and is suggesting that it could backfire.  Le Pen has expressed support for Assad in the past, and said on France-2 television Friday that she was "surprised" by Trump's sudden move. Le Pen said that Trump indicated he would not make the U.S. "the world's policeman, and that's exactly what he did yesterday." She warned that past international interventions in Iraq and Libya have led to rising Islamic extremism.

Asian stock market reaction: The price of bonds, the yen and gold rose in Asia on Friday and stocks slipped in the wake of the attack, Reuters reported. The American dollar dropped as much as 0.6 percent, while gold and oil prices rallied. Any early panic was quelled later in the day after a U.S. official called the attack a “one-off,” with no plans for escalation. 

Why they are fighting in Syria: For the past six years, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has fought rebel forces determined to take down his regime. The fighting, which began in March 2011 in Deraa, moved to the Aleppo area in 2012.


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