Trump ignores Russian warnings, vows to strike 'gas-killing animal' Assad

Trump ignores Russian warnings, vows to strike 'gas-killing animal' Assad
Syria update: Trump rebukes Russian threats, tweeting confirmation that 'nice new and smart' missiles will be deployed to Syria, as officials deliberate with France and UK on military response.
5 min read
11 April, 2018
The three governments are in long deliberations about staging a response to Bashar al-Assad [Getty]
US President Donald Trump tweeted confirmation that the US will be sending missiles to Syria, telling Russia to "get ready" after they threatened to "shoot down" US missiles and warplanes.

"Get ready Russia, because [the missiles] will be coming, nice and new and "smart!" You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!" Trump's tweet said, sent out on Wednesday morning.

Washington has been in talks with its key global allies over the possible joint military response to Syria's alleged poison gas attack, as Trump canceled other engagements in order to oversee the current crisis that has been testing if he has the resolve to stand up to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Trump spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday, whose government officials are also in the midst of extensive consultations with each other about launching a military strike as early as the end of this week.

As of Trump's tweet on Wednesday morning, none of the three countries' leaders had yet issued their decision, which could lead to direct military confrontation with Russia.

The three leaders have iterated their support of a "strong response" to the atrocity in Douma, which bears all the hallmarks of a strike ordered by Assad's Russian-backed regime. The regime has been blamed for previous attacks by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Many observers believe that a joint military operation, possibly with France rather than the US in the lead, could send a message of international unity about enforcing the prohibitions on chemical weapons and counter Syria's political and military support from Russia and Iran. 

President Emmanuel Macron said France, the US and Britain will decide how to respond in the coming days. He called for a "strong and joint response" to the attack on Saturday, which Syrian activists and rescuers say killed at least 40 people, however other estimates put the death toll nearer 100.

The Syrian government denies responsibility.
Trump suggested Monday he had little doubt that Syrian government forces were to blame for what he said was a chemical attack, but neither he nor other administration officials have produced hard evidence. 

Officials suggested such evidence was lacking, or at least not yet at hand, with Russia vetoing a UN investigation into the attacks and reportedly making it difficult for journalists and investigators to access the site of the attack.

The delayed US response is in stark contrast to last year's Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack, of which US intelligence agencies had video and other evidence of certain aspects of the actual attack, which involved the use of Sarin gas. Trump responded by launching 59 precision guided Tomahawk Navy cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield just two days after the Sarin attack took place.

Theresa May has expressed a larger degree of hesitation than her French and US counterparts toward military action, saying she refuses to commit British troops to a conflict against Syria's regime without further information on Saturday's chemical massacre.

One official said the US, France and Britain were considering military options that would be more extensive than the punitive, one-day strike last April. The strike does not seem to have had the desired effect of deterring Assad from further use of chemical agents. The three countries are therefore discussing a range of other options, including striking Syrian military facilities that would prevent Assad from conducting future attacks, the official said.

Asked whether France would take military action, Macron said his country will continue discussing technical and strategic information with US and British allies and will announce a decision in the coming days.

He said any action would "target chemical weapons" stocks. Under a 2013 agreement for which Russia oversaw, Syria was to have got rid of all its chemical weapons, but it is thought to have used chlorine as well as sarin, napalm and phosphorus since then.

A British government statement issued following Trump and May's phone call on Monday said the two agreed the attack in Syria was "utterly reprehensible" and that the international community must respond "to uphold the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons." 

Trump also hosted the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the White House on Monday, who told reporters that he and Trump "see eye to eye" on the Syria problem.

"We cannot tolerate with a war criminal," the emir said, adding, "This matter should end immediately." Qatar hosts the United States' main air operations centre for the Middle East, which would coordinate any American air attack in Syria.

The OPCW watchdog agency announced it is sending a fact-finding mission to Douma, after receiving a request from the Syrian government and its Russian backers to investigate the allegations. It was not immediately clear whether that visit would delay or avert US or allied military action.

The Russian military, which has troops in Syria, said on Monday that its officers had visited the site of the alleged attack and found no evidence to back up reports of poison gas being used.

The US military is noticeably mobilising to be in position to carry out any attack order. A US Navy destroyer made its way to the eastern Mediterranean on Monday after completing a port call in Cyprus. The guided missile destroyer is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, the weapon used by the US agasint Syria one year ago.

In addition, a US Navy aircraft carrier and its strike group is set to depart from Norfolk, Virginia, on Wednesday for a "regularly scheduled" deployment to Europe, the military said.

Airlines have also been instructed to avoid Syrian airspace as speculation of an airstrike gains momentum.

Eurocontrol echoed this with a warning to flight operators in the eastern Mediterranean early Wednesday.

The body said pilots should exercise caution in and around Syria over the next 72 hours, due to expected air strikes on Syria.

Agencies contributed to this report.