U.S., UK planned Syrian airbase attack

(Reuters/NAN) U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis asked for Britain’s view on whether Bashar al-Assad’s regime was responsible for a chemical attack in Syria before Washington launched a missile attack on a Syrian airbase, Britain’s defence minister said on Friday.

In a sharp escalation of the U.S. military role in Syria, two U.S. warships fired dozens of cruise missiles from the eastern Mediterranean Sea at the airbase controlled by Assad’s forces in response to the poison gas attack in a rebel-held area on Tuesday.

“The American defence secretary consulted me early yesterday evening about our assessment of the regime’s culpability for the chemical weapons attack and we reviewed the need to understand and to deal with any likely Russian reactions to the attack,” Michael Fallon told BBC Television.

“He was then reviewing the different options to put before the president, he then called me later on to advise us of the president’s decision and to give us notice of the attack and our prime minister was kept informed throughout,” he said.

The U.S. on Friday fired dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase from which it said a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched this week, an escalation of the U.S. military role in Syria that immediately raised tension with Russia.

Just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump announced he had ordered the attack, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said the strike had seriously damaged ties between Washington and Moscow.

Two U.S. warships fired 59 cruise missiles from the eastern Mediterranean Sea at the Syrian airbase controlled by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad in response to a poison gas attack in a rebel-held area on Tuesday, U.S. officials said.

Putin, a staunch ally of Assad, regarded the U.S. action as “aggression against a sovereign nation” on a “made-up pretext” and a cynical attempt to distract the world from civilian deaths in Iraq, his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was cited as saying by agencies.

It was the toughest direct U.S. action yet in Syria’s six-year-old civil war and leaves Trump facing his biggest foreign policy crisis since his Jan. 20 inauguration, raising the risk of confrontation with Russia and Iran, Assad’s two main military backers.

U.S. officials said they informed Russian forces ahead of the missile attacks and that they took pains to avoid hitting Russian troops at the base, saying there were no strikes on sections of the base where Russians were present.

They said the administration did not seek Moscow’s approval.