Sunday, June 17, 2018
Politics

Haley warns that US forces ‘locked and loaded’ if Syria stages another chemical attack

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations told the Security Council on Saturday that the United States is "locked and loaded," ready to launch another military strike if the Syrian government ever uses chemical weapons again.

"I spoke to the president this morning, and he said, ĎIf the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded,í" Nikki Haley said at an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting called by Russia after the U.S. and allies struck three targets in Syria.

"When our president draws a red line, our president enforces the red line," she added, echoing earlier warnings that Western powers could strike again.

Haleyís message came after her Russian counterpart, Vassily Nebenzia, said he would ask the Security Council to condemn the pre-dawn military strikes on Syria by the United States, France and Britain - calling the attacks a violation of international law and the U.N. Charter.

"This is how you want international affairs to be conducted now?" said Nebenzia, according to a translation of his comments in Russian. "This is hooliganism in international relations, and not minor hooliganism, given that weíre talking about major nuclear powers."

Franceís U.N. ambassador, FranÁois Delattre, gave a biting response, telling Nebenzia: "That charter was not designed in order to protect criminals."

Several diplomats at the Security Council warned of the potential danger that the Syrian crisis could spiral out of control and engulf the region and beyond.

But one major worry appeared to ease: That the coordinated attacks by the United States, France and Britain late Friday could have set off a direct confrontation with Syriaís most powerful military partner, Russia.

At the Pentagon, the director of the Joint Staff, Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, said the more than 100 missile strikes delivered a blow late Friday to the "heart" of Syriaís chemical weapons network. He acknowledged, however, that Syria retained "residual" capacity, but gave no details on the scope of what could be left.

The strikes were seen as a middle ground between a limited and largely symbolic strike - such as last yearís the U.S. missile attack - and a large-scale assault that could either destroy Syriaís chemical weapons or weaken Bashar Assadís grip on power.

By focusing on a narrow set of targets that the allies said are associated with chemical weapons, the military campaign deliberately avoided direct involvement in the seven-year Syrian civil war. It also appeared designed to sidestep Russian forces in Syria.

The strikes also appear to leave Assad firmly in control and with his Russian backing intact. The suburban Damascus area targeted in the suspected chemical attack last Saturday was among a dwindling number of rebel-held areas as Assad expands his control. Russian military assistance since 2015 has allowed Assad to break a stalemate with the rebels, some of whom are backed by the United States.

The Pentagon said a barrage of more than 40 Syrian surface-to-air missiles had "no material effect" on the allied attack, which McKenzie said struck their targets. None of the more sophisticated air defenses that Moscow has positioned in Syria were employed, he said. The general also denied assertions from Russian officials that some incoming missiles were intercepted by the Soviet-made antimissile batteries used by Syrian forces.

McKenzie described one site, the Barzah Research and Development Center, near Damascus, as a "core" facility for Syriaís chemical weapons program.

"They lost lot of equipment. They lost a lot of material, and thatís going to have a significant effect," McKenzie told reporters at the Pentagon.

The rhetoric from Syriaís backers was harsh. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the strikes would have "a destructive effect on the entire system of international relations."

Syrian television called the attacks a "flagrant violation" of international law, and Iranís supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, derided them as a "military crime."

But there were no signs the Russian military was preparing a retaliatory response that could bring Moscow and Washington into direct confrontation.

The head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, predicted: "This will reduce the regimeís ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons."

Washington, Paris and London said they have proof, without identifying it, that chlorine gas caused victims to suffocate.

Inspectors from the international Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were expected to make their initial foray Saturday to Douma. They will collect soil samples and talk to witnesses in attempts to pin down what occurred.

"A perfectly executed strike last night," tweeted President Trump. "Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!"

The assault came despite the lack of a definitive independent finding that chemical weapons were used or who had deployed them. An initial team of inspectors had only arrived in Syria on Friday.

"Nothing is certain in these kinds of matters. However, we used a little over double the number of weapons this year than we used last year," said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. "It was done on targets that we believed were selected to hurt the chemical weapons program. We confined it to the chemical weapons-type targets."

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the only communications that took place between the United States and Russia before the operation were "the normal deconfliction of the airspace, the procedures that are in place for all of our operations in Syria."

The European Union voiced support for the allies. European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted, "The EU will stand with our allies on the side of justice."

In the wake of last weekendís gruesome attack, some U.S. officials advocated a larger, and therefore riskier, strike than the limited action Trump ordered in April 2017, also in response to suspected chemical weapons use.

That attack involved 59 Tomahawk missiles fired from two U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea. It fulfilled Trumpís vow that chemical weapons are a "red line" that he, unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, would not allow Assad to cross. But the airfield targeted by the Pentagon resumed operations shortly after the attack and, according to Western intelligence assessments, chemical attacks resumed.

Since last yearís strike, multiple chemical attacks have been reported in opposition areas, most of them involving chlorine rather than the nerve agent sarin, as was used in 2017, suggesting the government may have adjusted its tactics.

Russiaís military had threatened to shoot down any U.S. missiles that put Russian lives at risk. Russia could also fire at the launch platforms used - potentially U.S. planes or ships. Russian officials had said U.S. and Russian military staffs remained in contact regarding Syria, even as Russian media carried stories in recent days about the potential outbreak of "World War III" as a consequence of a U.S. airstrike against Assad.

- - -

The Washington Postís Louisa Loveluck in Beirut, Anton Troianovski in Moscow, Simon Denyer in Beijing, and Brian Murphy and Paul Sonne in Washington contributed to this report.

Comments
FBI agent removed from Russia probe for anti-Trump texts says heís willing to testify before Congress

FBI agent removed from Russia probe for anti-Trump texts says heís willing to testify before Congress

The FBI agent who was removed from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election for sending anti-Trump texts intends to testify before the House Judiciary Committee and any other congressional committee that asks, his attorney sai...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Erosion of immigrant protections began with Trump inaugural

Erosion of immigrant protections began with Trump inaugural

The Trump administrationís move to separate immigrant parents from their children on the U.S.-Mexico border has grabbed attention around the world, drawn scorn from human-rights organizations and overtaken the immigration debate in Congress.Itís also...
Updated: 11 hours ago
GOP lawmakers decry family separations as WH defends policy

GOP lawmakers decry family separations as WH defends policy

WASHINGTON ó Congressional Republicans distanced themselves Thursday from the Trump administrationís aggressive policy of separating children from their parents at the southern border even as the White House cited the Bible in defending its "zero tol...
Published: 06/14/18
Sarah Sanders and  Raj Shah are planning to step down, per CBS report

Sarah Sanders and Raj Shah are planning to step down, per CBS report

Press secretary Sarah Sanders and principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah are considering stepping down, according to a CBS report. Sanders promptly responded in a Tweet saying, "I love my job and am honored to work for @POTUS." Does @CBSNews k...
Published: 06/13/18
Updated: 06/14/18
Fed raises key rate and sees possible acceleration in hikes

Fed raises key rate and sees possible acceleration in hikes

WASHINGTON ó The Federal Reserve has raised its benchmark interest rate for the second time this year and signaled that it may step up its pace of rate increases because of solid economic growth and rising inflation. The Fed now foresees four rate hi...
Published: 06/13/18
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister hits $1 million mark in first bid for election

Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister hits $1 million mark in first bid for election

TAMPA ó Law enforcement officers never want to be outgunned. Neither do political candidates.Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister need not worry.The Republican candidate has amassed what appears to be a record-sized war chest of just more than $1 mil...
Published: 06/12/18
Romano: It ainít voter suppression if you bother to show up

Romano: It ainít voter suppression if you bother to show up

So the Supreme Court is in favor of voter suppression.Or is it election integrity?I suppose your interpretation depends on your party affiliation.Liberals seem convinced that an Ohio voting law upheld by the Supreme Court on Monday is a devious plot ...
Published: 06/12/18
Romano: It ainít voter suppression if you bother to show up

Romano: It ainít voter suppression if you bother to show up

So the Supreme Court is in favor of voter suppression.Or is it election integrity?I suppose your interpretation depends on your party affiliation.Liberals seem convinced that an Ohio voting law upheld by the Supreme Court on Monday is a devious plot ...
Published: 06/12/18
Trumpís tougher Cuba policy having little impact on Tampa area

Trumpís tougher Cuba policy having little impact on Tampa area

TAMPA ó June 16 will mark a year since President Trump announced a tougher Cuba travel policy, but unlike in much of the nation, the changes donít seem to have hurt local bookings to the island.The number of people traveling between Tampa and Havana ...
Published: 06/11/18
Updated: 06/13/18
Trump, Kim Jong Un arrive in Singapore for historic summit

Trump, Kim Jong Un arrive in Singapore for historic summit

SINGAPORE - President Donald Trump arrived here Sunday night ahead of a potentially historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the first meeting between the leaders of two countries that have been sworn enemies for almost seven decades.Air...
Published: 06/11/18