TAMPA — U.S. Central Command planned Thursday night's U.S. military air strike against Syria from its headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, according to a spokesman.
Two Navy vessels fired a total of 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Syrian government airbase in Shayrat airbase, outside the west central city of Homs, said Air Force Col. John Thomas, a spokesman for CentCom.
Syrian fighter aircraft, fuel storage and ammunition dumps were the targets, he told the Tampa Bay Times.
"We did not target anything we thought to be chemical weapons, for obvious reasons," Thomas said. "We did not target any Russians or Russian facilities on the base."
But the U.S. did warn Russian military forces about the impending strike through the usual communications channels, Thomas said, which are used to avoid conflict.
Neither Syrian officials, nor any forces aligned against them, were given any warning.
From his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, President Trump told the nation that he ordered the air strikes in response to the government of Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad killing more than 80 civilians in a chemical weapons attack this week.
Thomas said about 20 Syrian fighters, stored on the flightline and in bunkers, were hit.
"All indications are that we hit the targets we wanted to, about 20 aircraft in bunkers and exposed," Thomas said.
However, he said military commanders won't be able to assess the extent of the damage inflicted until daylight. There is a seven-hour time difference between Syria and Tampa.
A spokesman for the Pentagon, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, released this statement:
"The strike was conducted using Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) launched from the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. A total of 59 TLAMs targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars. As always, the U.S. took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict. Every precaution was taken to execute this strike with minimal risk to personnel at the airfield.
"The strike was a proportional response to Assad's heinous act. Shayrat Airfield was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian air forces. The U.S. intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the chemical weapons attack on April 4 (Tuesday.) The strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again."
Both Navy vessels are Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers. They were operating in the Mediterranean and under the technical control of CentCom at the time of the attack, said Thomas.
The commander of CentCom is Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who signed off on the order to fire. Then it was sent up the chain of command, through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense to the president, who made the final call.
CentCom, which oversees U.S. military operations in the region and works closely with allied nations, is observing what, if any, effect the attack on the Syrian airbase will have on the fight against the Islamic State, where forces are marshalling for an eventual attack against Raqqa, the putative capital of the jihadi group's withering caliphate.
The missile attack "does have an impact on operations against Raqqa," said Thomas. "We have to manage the impact the strike may have on the fight in Syria."
There are about 1,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in Syria, said Thomas.
"We will certainly be vigilant for force protection in Syria," he said.
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.