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President Trump Addresses the Nation on Syria; U.S. Launches Strike on Syria; Reuters: Reports of Explosions in Damascus. Aired 9- 10p ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 21:00   ET


[21:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: We just got a two minute warning in fact, so within three minutes the President should be speaking address the nation on Syria.

Jim Sciutto, as we wait to hear from the President should be now about a minute and 30 seconds or so, it is obviously for any Commander-in- Chief, one of the most serious issues decision that they have to make about military action endangering U.S. forces, taking human life and the ripple effects of that particularly in Syria where a long-term strategy is something that as eluded certainly, the prior administration as well.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: You are putting lives in danger on the grounds in Syria using deadly force on the ground in Syria and you are putting U.S. forces in danger likely in limited danger. It's most likely this is a standoff attack missiles fired from a distance, U.S. warships, submarines of the Eastern Mediterranean perhaps aircraft as well. But still, in this environment, there was always risk involve so it's a great decision to be taken by the Commander-in-Chief. That's for sure.

The big question from -- what we hear from the President is one, how sustained this attack will be and two, what is the intention here? What is the goal? Is the goal to send a message? To punish the regime for using this chemical weapons or is it a bigger goal? Is it to weaken the regime? Is it an intention perhaps change the balance of power on the ground there? Unlikely but let's listen to the President's announcement.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, Jim, any effort to really change the balance of power would have to be a sustained effort, very sustained effort. Obviously, the President now is about to come up to the podium. I'm told addressing the nation on the situation in Syria and what his decision has been. Let's listen in.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans. A short time ago I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on target associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad.

A combined operation with the Armed Forces of France and the United Kingdom is now underway. We thank them both. Tonight, I want to speak with you about why we have taken this action. One year ago, Assad launched a savage chemical weapons attack against his own innocent people. The United States responded with 58 missile strikes that destroyed 20 percent of the Syrian Air Force.

Last Saturday, the Assad regime again deployed chemical weapons to slaughter innocent civilians this time in the town of Douma near the Syrian capitol of Damascus. This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons used by that very terrible regime.

The evil and despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead.

Following the horrors of World War I a century ago, civilized nations joined together to ban chemical warfare. Chemical weapons are uniquely dangerous not only because they inflict resent suffering but because even small amounts can unleash widespread devastation.

The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons. Establishing this deterrent is a vital national security interest of the United States. The combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power, military, economic, and diplomatic.

We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents. I also have a message tonight for two governments most responsible for supporting, equipping and financing the criminal Assad regime.

[21:05:00] To Iran and to Russia, I ask what kind of a nation wants to be association with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children. The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep. No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting world stakes, brutal tyrants and murderous dictators.

In 2013, President Putin and his government promised the world that they would guarantee the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons. Assad's recent attack and today's response are the direct result of Russia's failure to keep that promise.

Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace. Hopefully some day we'll get along with Russia and maybe even Iran, but maybe not.

I will say this, the United States has a lot to offer with the greatest and most powerful economy in the history of the world.

In Syria, the United States with but a small force being used to eliminate what is left of ISIS is doing what is necessary to protect the American people. Over the last year, nearly 100 percent of the territory once controlled by the so-called ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq has been liberated and eliminated. The United States has also rebuilt our friendships across the Middle East. We have asked our partners to take greater responsibility for securing their home region including contributing large amounts of money for the resources, equipment and all of the anti ISIS effort. The increased engagement from our friends including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt and others can ensure that Iran does not profit from the eradication of ISIS.

America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria under no circumstances. As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home. And great warriors they are.

Looking around our very troubled world, Americans have no illusions. We cannot purge the world of evil, or act everywhere there is tyranny.

No amount of American blood or treasure can produce lasting peace and security in the Middle East. It's a troubled place. We will try to make it better, but it is a troubled place. The United States will be a partner and a friend, but the fate of the region lies in the hands of its own people.

In the last century, we looked straight into the darkest places of the human soul. We saw the anguish that can be unleashed and the evil that can take hold. By the end of the World War I, more than one million people had been killed or injured by chemical weapons. We never want to see that ghastly specter return.

So today, the nations of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshalled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality.

Tonight, I ask all Americans to say a prayer for our noble warriors and our allies as they carry out their missions. We pray that God will bring comfort to those suffering in Syria. We pray that God will guide the whole region toward a future of dignity and of peace. And we pray that God will continue to watch over and bless the United States of America.

Thank you, and goodnight. Thank you.

COPPER: Just heard from President Trump speaking at the White House announcing the U.S. military action is underway in Syria strikes now occurring against Syria's chemical weapons capabilities. He says retaliation for chemical attacks on the city from Douma in seven days ago or last Saturday.

We have correspondents throughout the region and in Washington. CNN's Barbara Starr has new information. He joins us now with more on the dimensions on what the President announce tonight. Barbara, the President is saying this is being done in conjunction with our allies with France and the United Kingdom?

[21:10:12] BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson. And I suspect we will eventually hear from both British and French authorities. We have now learned here that later tonight in just about 50 minutes we expect a briefing here at the Pentagon. It is expected to be televised in the briefing room. And we expect a military update on what has occurred.

Perhaps one of the most compelling things from a military point of view that the President said is that the U.S. and presumably the coalition is prepared to sustain a response until the Syrians stop using prohibited chemicals. Sustained response. We'll see what that means. But the response tonight is military. That's certainly seems to be a hint that the U.S., French and British authorities are prepared to have further military action.

I think it's very much worth taking a moment about the fate of U.S. troops. There are about two thousand U.S. troops in Syria tonight on the ground, mainly special forces involved in the fight against ISIS. They are mainly -- this is no secret. They are in the north, they are in the east, in the south in various areas. Where the regime holds in the west and northwest this is an area very much controlled by the regime and Russian authorities. U.S. troops are not there. But tonight U.S. troops are in military actions. So they are going to try very hard to avoid those Russian and Syrian air defenses in that part of the country that the Russians and the regime control.

When we talk about air defenses we are talking about radars and missiles that are Russian and Syrian that could be used to target U.S. pilots, target U.S. cruise missiles, missiles obviously coming into the area.

COOPER: And let me just tell you, we are also just learning right now that witnesses are telling Reuters that explosions are being heard in Damascus, obviously the capital.

STARR: Right. This is what we have been watching for. It is in Damascus that is every indication that they are going after the more robust set of targets not just airfields going after some of Assad power structure if you will, that controls the chemical weapon.

The commanders -- the commander control the intelligence headquarters. I think it's fair to say you are not going to see U.S. pilots over Damascus. They air defenses that we just talked about are way too heavy and way too risky.

U.S. aircraft would be capable of essentially standing off back in the Mediterranean, back in other nearby countries firing in towards Damascus or cruise missiles. That's what we will be looking for, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes Barbara, Nick Paton Walsh is in northern Syria. And Nick to Barbara's point, the President did talk about a sustained effort. But he didn't specifically say a sustained military effort. He mentioned military economic and diplomatic but clearly the President wanting to telegraph that this is going to be not just sort of a one off effort, this is some sort of a sustained effort by the U.S. by Britain and France in order to stop Syria in the future using chemical weapons?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Of course, military economic and diplomatic effort, until the regime stops its use.

Now, we have been hearing from an eyewitness in Damascus's explosions as Donald Trump was in fact still talking there, so quite clearly giving this as being telegraph quite some extent in advance of the speech at the beginning of the strikes.

It is absolutely unclear how long they will go on for. The fact that there are explosions heard in Damascus may suggests that chemical research facilities may be targeted.

He was very specific though in saying they are going after chemical weapons facilities. In fact, also within that particular speech that was sort of a bookend, if you like, limiting exactly what kind of respond and involvement United States wants to have inside Syrian. Quite clear that you not seek a protracted involvement inside the Syria camp.

But they are into a new chapter potentially here. It is the first morning call to prayer, you might hear behind me here inside Syria as people possibly begin their day. And it will be quite a different one from yesterday.

Of course it isn't clear exactly the extent of the damage they wish to inflict upon the Syrian regime at this particular point. He was very clear that the British and French militaries will be involved in the operations ahead of us here. And of course, as you know, there has been something over debate long been perhaps of the last few hours publicized about how far the strikes should necessarily go, Anderson.

[21:15:00] COOPER: Nick, I also want bring in our military and diplomatic analyst Admiral John Kirby.

Admiral Kirby, just in terms of military capabilities of France, of the United Kingdom in this region how much do we know about what sort of assistance, and what sort of part they would play?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes. So on the British side they have an air base Cyprus that has been used for many, many years and can handle strike and aircraft and bombers. They also have two types of sub marines, the Astute class and the Trafalgar class which are capable of carrying Tomahawk missile. It's the only other navy that we sail to this two types of submarines can carry those. So there could -- I don't know but certainly could be British submarine action in terms of Tomahawk missiles if those were in fact used.

On the French side they had bases in Jordan and the UAA as we can see there on the map. They also have in the region they have these Rafale Strike Fighters. Now they're very capable fighters, but they can fire an air launched cruise missile of their own. It has -- it's called a Storm Shadow, Anderson, and it's got a range of about 300 to 350 miles. So it's a pretty capable missile very accurate kind of similar to the Long Range Stand-Off Missile that we have only a shorter range.

And getting to Barbara's point about can't away from those air defenses. They could use those Rafael Fighters to launch this Storm Shadow missile as well.

And for our sake, you know, we've got this Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, which has a range of about 650 miles, which is a little bit less than a Tomahawk missile. They can be fired from aircraft that we the United States also have in the region based there (inaudible) 15 Air Base. We've got B-1 bombers air, there are F-15E Strike Eagle, which can fire this missile. So lots of opportunities to launch cruise missiles.

And I suspect, Anderson, that when we get a more fulsome briefing you'll going to hear that it was mostly cruise missiles involved in these strikes.

COOPER: And you say that based on -- I mean, A, the President tweeted earlier in the week about smart weapons.

KIRBY: Right.

COOPER: But just in terms of not wanting to fly aircraft over Damascus has subjected to anti aircraft batteries that they have.

KIRBY: That's right. I mean, a year ago, Anderson, it was 59 Tomahawks. He wants something more robust, so you could make it more robust by including air launched cruise missiles as well as sea launched cruise missiles, the Tomahawks. So we might see that here but it's really about being stand off and keeping out of the range of the very sophisticated, very capable Russian air defense systems. They have S-300 and S-400 system in Syria. They have a range of about 250 miles. And they carry 300 pounds warhead, this Russian air defense systems, very capable and they have been scattered throughout Syria.

The other thing about them, Anderson, is that they've mobile. They are on trucks and they can move them very, very quickly. So it's a hazardous situation from an air defense picture.

COOPER: Yes. Also, our CNN's Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour is monitoring developments for us from London.

Christiane, interesting to hear the President tonight call out Iran, call out Russia say, what sort of nation do you want to be associated -- wants to be associated with a mass murder?

Also criticizing Russia saying that they failed to keep their promise that they made in 2013 to eliminate chemical weapons used in Syria. He called the -- he said about Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons, not the actions of a man but crimes of a monster but particularly this talk to a sustained effort against chemical weapons in Syria, whether he talked about military economic diplomatic. It's very easy to say that. But Syria is a difficult environment for the U.S. and others to try to effect events on the ground long term?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Indeed and the President actually said that. We're not trying to do everything ourselves. We can't. But we have to take this action. And we had further clarification and perhaps more detail about precisely the intention from the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, who is in that coalition and whose released statement.

This evening I've authorized British armed forces to conduct coordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian regime's chemical weapons capabilities and to deter them from future strikes. And she said that nobody should be surprised by this action, that there was no other way according to the British, the French and the United States.

They point even to the latest Russian Veto of any kind of independent investigation in Douma and they say that they have tried diplomatically for years to basically fix this problem of deterring the Syrian regime from using chemical weapons, which are weapons of mass destruction and abandon the international law.

So all the senior officials, who I've been talking to in the last few days, from the former British head of the intelligence to the Israeli former head of the air force to the former French chief of staff of the air force, all of them say that this has to happen right now because we cannot allow chemical weapons, weapons of mass destruction to be normalized. And that what Bashar al-Assad has done in the seven years of this war.

[21:20:03] And the President pointed out to -- you know, having responded to the last major chemical attack a year ago. And yet that hasn't deterred Assad. And he was very strong against President Putin.

And the Russians do bear at least a responsibility because they did seek to stop the Obama administration taking any action even after the failure to cross the red line by promising that their cooperation and their contribution would be to remove Assad's chemical weapons. And it's clear that, that hasn't happen.

And of course, in the meantime they are also saying that these are false flag attacks. That is the U.K. who committed the chemical weapons crime in Douma. I mean, just really strange stuff.


AMANPOUR: So this is something that the allies would be forced into.

COOPER: And Christiane the U.S. saying today that based on their analysis that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons at least 50 times over the last several years.

AMANPOUR: Yes, we know that.

COOPER: -- of this war, yes. I do want to bring in -- just quickly Christiane, Barbara Starr who has new information on military assets that are being used at this hour. What have you learned, Barbara?

STARR: Anderson, my colleague Ryan Browne has just confirmed that both ships and in fact aircraft have been used tonight in this round of strikes. Now that gets us to the points of U.S. pilots and their fate. We have every reason to believe that no manned aircraft, no U.S. allied pilots for that matter are flying over Syrian Air Space. But we now know that air crafts are in the air.

They have the capability of essentially staying out of Syrian air space either over the Mediterranean to the west or in other air space of surrounding countries and firing into Syria towards Damascus, towards any of the targets they maybe wanting to hit.

But this is significant now because of course a year ago we only saw cruise missiles being used. The fact that they are using pilot manned aircraft -- I mean, it certainly does add an element of risk even if they stay out of Syrian air space. They want to stay as far offshore as they can because of those Russian and Syrian radars and missiles that could be capable of shooting them down. It was just several weeks ago. An Israeli F-16 flying back from a mission in Syria was shot down after it attacked what it said was an Iranian air base inside Syria. So these air defenses, these radars and missiles are key to keeping the troops safe and keeping the pilots safe, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Barbara, I want to bring in our Retired Army Major General James "Spider" Marks, who is also joining us. General Marks, just in terms of what Barbara has just reported about air craft in addition to missiles, what advantage does air craft -- adding aircraft into the mix give you?

MAJOR GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Anderson, let me show you something that I think is going to be incredibly important. Let's start with this to the point that Barbara is making and John Kirby just made, is that when you look at the presence of U.S. and allied capabilities that are currently in the region, what you have, in each one of this clearly you have ships that are coming into the Mediterranean and you got pre-positioned capabilities here that can strike into Syria by bringing in air craft, what it does as Barbara indicated it's certainly increases the risk and increases the capabilities of multiple attack angles going against targets in Syria. That put the air defense capabilities that the Russian and the Syrians have at a higher state of alert and spoof and confuse them.

Let me move to this. Clearly this is a depiction of what the capabilities are in terms of Russian air defense. Most of those are located here at Latakia and Tartus, those two sea ports that are in the Mediterranean. This is the distance that the Russians can reach with their capabilities that are indicated here. This is a mobile capability that they have with that range of about 250 miles. It's important to realize this mobility allows them to move that circular defense capability throughout the map.

COOPER: General, I just want to quickly tell you Syrian state media is now reporting that their air defenses have engaged U.S., French and British targets. That's according to the Syrian regime. Again, take that for what it's worth.

MARKS: Take it for what is worth that what that probably means, again, is has been reported the capabilities are coming from cruise missiles, precision-guided munition that have a standoff capability. No U.S. aircraft will go into this very contested air space. There's no reason that would -- by doing that that would increase either an attack capability or an effect that we want to try that the United States or allies want to try to achieve on the ground. That can be achieved from a stand off capability.

[21:25:00] COOPER: You know, it's interesting, CNN has been reported that messages are being passed or have been past to Moscow about the U.S. and allies intentions to create a lasting deterrent against the use of chemical weapons. What level of information would the U.S. pass along to Russia in advance of a strike like this? Obviously a great concern to General Mattis and others bas been, you know, a direct confrontation between the U.S. forces and Russian forces in Syria?

MARKS: Correct. Anderson, this is the challenge. This is the visualization that we get to. These are locations where Syrian aircraft and other capabilities are. For example, here is the capital of Damascus where we already know attacks are ongoing. What we see here in red are locations where Russian forces, not just aircraft but ground forces, logistics capabilities, intelligence capabilities to include ground capabilities coexist with Syrian forces.

The challenge is chemical if chemical capabilities are at any of those locations you now have a very precise requirement to ensure collateral damage can be determined. Not only for civilians but you have to increase to ensure that you have standoff and separation between Russian targets because we are not targeting the Russians.

But if we were to have an accidental engagement with the Russians, that would immediately cause escalation. That's what is driving the secretary of defense's caution. His primary thing is to present to the President of the United States a solution, and he did, that is punitive that takes capabilities that Assad has, primarily his chemical capabilities, commanding control, inventory, research and development, delivery means off the table. They have to be degraded.

But what has to happen simultaneously is we can't afford to go after Russian targets because that just would put us into a level of escalation we can't have.

COOPER: We're going to continue to check in with you, General Marks, we are also anticipating a military briefing in about 30 minutes or so from now approximately. Stay with us. We'll obviously bring you that live.

Nick Paton Walsh is in northern Syria he has new reporting on some of the targets. What have you learned, Nick?

WALSH: Still part of the information this ground assembly. We are hearing that the Douma airfield near Damascus may have been hit. According to our mass sort of regime loyal news agency there.

That is thought to be associated with Syrian air force strikes that will be carried out from the eastern go to suburbs to this obviously of Damascus capital where Douma sides of the chemical weapons attack last weekend actually occurred.

So the first evidence perhaps that specific airfields may be being hit they believe relate to last weekend's attack. But obviously when you start to hit the broader military infrastructure of the Syrian regime, you run the risk of hitting their Russian advice and assist mission are often embedded within those areas.

It is often unclear exactly who ends up being where. But I should point out the length of telegraphing that's occurred about this potential operations giving them plenty of scope to move out elsewhere. I'm sure of course, defense will attract more assets have gone and update the target, at least, Anderson.

COOPER: Right, obviously that's the question given -- I mean, this was seven days ago last Saturday in Douma that this apparent chemical attack took place and given this public statement by the White House, by President Trump himself tweeting out about a smart strike coming, warning Russia how possible it is for -- not just Russian forces but Syrian forces to have relocated, to have moved aircraft that's important to them, helicopters that are important to them, any kind of chemical weapons assets or building blocks or materials?

WALSH: Yes, I mean obviously that's being the week's task, I'm sure to mingle those remaining assets with Russian basis to make it hard for any U.S. air strikes to be sure they are avoiding Russian targets or to escape that target list so to speak.

But remember Donald Trump just said in that speech that 8 cruise 59 Tomahawk missiles according to him took out 20 percent of the Syrian air force. Now, that is a remarkable number if indeed, true suggesting how degraded the Syrian air force was simply at that moment a year ago.

We know that frankly a lot their -- increase their power it must surely have been from Russian are openly displaying or boasting of its air power and using its air battlefield here is some kind of showcase for Russian weaponry. So it is entirely possible that even the things have been move around, they can still inflict damage on the basic infrastructure of air force run way, things that the Syrian government is dependent upon in the future is simply the building blocks of existence here.

[21:30:02] They could be damaged enough to inflict the cause that is felt still months ahead. And of course the broader point that if you start doing that, to you at some point risk hitting Iranian troops, Russian troops, the Israeli recently refuse of hitting a T-4 military air base just a matter of days ago. And there have been statements since then suggesting that the Iranian troops may have been injured or killed in that particular blast essentially widening the scope of conflict here.

That shows you, frankly, how many different forces are involved here, what kind of (inaudible) we're talking about and the frequency with matches of in the way, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto is also back with us. Jim, you've been essentially covering this as much as anyone. Just in terms of the difficulty of finding targets long term, if this is to be as the President said a multi-national sustained effort, I assume he is not just talking about militarily, because at a certain point the number of targets degrades rapidly and without risking hitting Russians, without risking hitting Iranians. And that's perhaps why he talked also about this being military economic and diplomatic initiatives moving forward.

SCIUTTO: No question. But let's be clear. It's worth remembering. This is an enormous reversal. Could this President and this administration, less than two weeks ago the President announced publicly that the U.S. would withdraw from Syria, surprising his military commanders. He then followed up at CNN's reporting and others reporting and told, instructed the Pentagon, his National Security Staff to begin withdraw of U.S. forces from Syria.

And now, less than two weeks later the President has begun a significant military attack on the country and committed himself, his administration and the U.S. military to a sustained campaign in response to Syrian chemical weapons attacks.

Now we should be fair, it's a different situation. The U.S. ground forces there withdrawing them is different from a sustained, what appears to be an air campaign from the air and from the ships. But still, the military commitment in two weeks going from -- we are walking away, we're going to live to local partners, allies, let them do their share to committing himself and this administration and the U.S. military sustain military commitment on the ground there in response chemical weapons attacks.

On that point, we should make clear that in the last year sense that attack that prompted the previous U.S. response. There have been dozens of attacks in the chemical weapons category, not with nerve agent necessarily but with chlorine gas which is still categorize as chemical weapon. It brought no U.S. military response. So, has the President committed himself to military response by the U.S. and its allies to the use of chlorine gas which the Syrian regime has used frequently? That would mean that you're going to see missiles flying from U.S. warships and aircraft towards Syria many times a month, perhaps many times a week, that's the question here.

And that is something that the President didn't answer in his speech. But what is clear is that in the span of less than two weeks U.S. policy towards Syria has turned on a dime. And that's quite a remarkable turnout for this President who has shown very little interest in sustaining military activity in the Middle East and for the country and for the military. It's something that if the President wants, you know, that promise to be delivered on then the U.S. military will have to deliver on that promise with enormous military power.

COOPER: Yes. Let's get back with our Nick Paton Walsh who is in Northern Syria. Nick, what are you hearing?

WALSH: Yes. At this point, Anderson, of course, I think it's the whole follow war caveat applies here. We are getting preliminary information. But from an eyewitness in Damascus we have spoken to. He is talking about explosions, aminating what it seems to be from a research facility near the capitol itself. That's really what I can give you as regard to that.

On top of that too, the major air base -- military base, to the south of the capital according to the mass (ph) Regime Loyal Agency that has also being hit. That is said to have been a place out of reach the Iranian military has occasionally being spotted on, base itself as being hit by the Israelis apparently in the past years also. This target list slowly growing and with it the possibility, the possibility I say here that we may not just be seeing the Syrian military hit in this, but the (inaudible) had a week frankly to get themselves cover, Anderson.

COOPER: You know, Nick, just again, what is so difficult about Syria is just the level of action the U.S. is willing to take or any president is willing to take. It is something that obviously this administration wrestled the red line or the line was crossed. They did not respond as they had indicated they would. You know, there are not a lot of great options depending unless, I mean, depending on how aggressive and how much of a commitment one -- any country wants to make to getting involved with a deadly conflict that's been going on for seven years in the Middle East again.

[21:35:16] WALSH: Yes, I mean, you know, from taking the particular things, the terrible accidents on mistakes to go wrong here, it doesn't really look like Russian or Syria want to drag the U.S. into this war. And it's absolutely clear for the past six years that Washington wants very little to do with this as humanly and possibly and more so frankly since Donald Trump came in to the White House.

So unless we see some grossly unforeseen error occurring here, it's unlikely, I would say, to -- or suddenly find the U.S. as a new participant in Syria's civil war but limits the target list potentially available to them. We've had a lot of rhetoric, a lot of publicity given to the internal debate inside the White House as to how broad the targets could have been perhaps. Rattling to save us to make Iran and Russia potentially feel like this use of chemical weapon was an embarrassment to them.

Remember, it was back in 2013 that the first use of sarin that got the international community extraordinarily up in arms. Russia then up in no military option the most from the Obama administration came forward and persuaded the Syrian regime on the circus at least to say it would give up it's chemical weapons. So, there was an element of embarrassment in Moscow that they may feel again tonight despite their (inaudible), this is all being something almost plot this chemical weapons by British secret service is no evidence. Back to you Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Where military briefing, we're expecting from the U.S. military in about 24 minutes, obviously bring that to you live also. I want to go right now to our military analyst, retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. Colonel, what are you seeing in all of these tonight, what are were you hearing not just U.S. military but the United Kingdom as well as France?

COLONEL CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Anderson, I think what we are seeing here is the beginning of a coalition in terms of the actual operation. Now, diplomatically, of course, that coalition has been an existence for some time. But for specifically the Syrian operation, it looks like it's an integrated air campaign.

And what that means is an air campaign that is actually poised to go after a series of targets using different types of munitions. General Marks has mentioned the different missile systems that are out there, the stand off munitions. Those can be handed in either from ships or from aircraft. And it is possible that we did in fact have in fact overflown Syrian territory with a manned aircraft.

And so, what we could see is testing those air defenses. First we would do it with unmanned aircraft with missile systems to weaken those air defenses. But after they have been sufficiently degraded we would then potentially use manned aircraft to go in there. But that would be a very, very risky thing do.

COOPER: How difficult is it to sustain a military campaign like this just in terms of targeting without obvious, you know, with giving all the considerations of civilians on the ground but Russian forces on the grounds, Iranian forces on the ground.

LEIGHTON: So, one of the most difficult thing is actually compiling with target list in any type of air campaign. But the biggest issue here is one of your various totally pointing out, Anderson, and that is, that you eventually run out of the targets. The fact that not only have this -- the Syrians have a fairly limited capability any ways, but the capability has been degraded by the civil war. And the added complication is of course the fact that the Russian and Iranians are there.

So, when you put together a target list you try to have as much as ironclad intelligence as possible to make sure that you know where the Russians are and you know where the Iranians are. And if you don't want to hit theme those become no strike areas, no strike zones. And you use that information then to program the weapons that you're flying against the target that you do want to hit.

COOPER: Colonel, if you could just standby, I do want to bring in General James "Spider" Marks just to give -- who is at the map, just to give us a sense of some of the things that colonel has been talking about.

MARKS: Yes, Anderson, what I've been able to receive from some open source reporting that is coming completely from online, some capabilities that I have access to that are scraping some web sites and some reporting or at least some chatter that's taking place inside Damascus. And I hate to kind of lay out the confusion but essentially strikes are in Damascus almost essentially and we're getting some pretty good reporting on that.

In this three various, Dummar (ph), Jamraya (ph), and Masakin (ph) borders have districts that are around Damascus, both to the north and to the east. And then a headquarters of the fourth mechanize division in Baghdad it self and RND, research and development capabilities inside Damascus. [21:40:02] It's important to realize that the concentration in Damascus is important because that really speaks to degrading the capability, probably not defeating, but degrading the capability both intelligence and commander control that could sustain chemical attacks going ahead in the future.

COOPER: General Marks, Jim Sciutto has some new information understand now on the duration of strikes. Jim, what are you learning?

SCIUTTO: That's right, Anderson, just spoke with a senior administration official who said this words, this isn't over, what you've seen tonight in this military response is not the end of the U.S. response to Syria's chemical weapons attacks, it builds a lot of flexibility into the plan based on what they've see successfully hit tonight. But that this response likely to be multi-wave, not a single wave.

And that being a mark difference from what we saw a year ago. It was fairly limited strike, one night, a number of targets hit and expand of a couple of hours. But to be clear here, the administration making clear that what you see tonight is not the end of this. This is going to be a multi-layered response to Syria's use of chemical weapons.

COOPER: And by multi-layer, you don't mean just militarily I mean, again, the President telegraph this saying -- talking about economic also diplomatic.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. That would be portion that President and you heard in the statement. He have been offering the possibility of, you know, the wealth of the U.S. economy, right. I mean, that seemed to be part of his message that, you know, come to, you know, join us more peaceful terms et cetera. But the message from this is that beyond those steps in any diplomatic economic steps that the military response that you've seen tonight is not the end of the military response.

COOPER: All right. I want to go back to Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Colonel Leighton, obviously, we are going to be hearing from U.S. military briefers probably in about 20 minutes or so. Just in terms of to Jim's point of a sustained military response, you talked about the difficulty of finding targets which is difficult in any campaign and we -- there was this problem in Northern Iraq. There was this problem elsewhere in Syria in years past.

But again, adding in the Russians, adding in the Iranians, adding in civilians and probably -- I mean, just in terms if the targets are chemical weapon related, how many targets would there be that are specifically related to chemicals?

LEIGHTON: Well, that's a really good question. And the real answer, Anderson is this that even the intelligence agencies don't know for sure. The general guess is that you have, you know, potentially dozens of installations that could potentially house chemical weapons. The number of actual places where they are stored and are then deployed is less than that.

So what you're looking for are areas where you know that they are going to be putting chemicals like the ones that were against Douma in barrel bombs and put them on -- in helicopters. And that's the place where you want to get them, either at the storage facility or at the transportation areas.

So you probably have about a dozen targets easily that you could use for that particular purpose that would be chemical areas that you would want to get rid of it. The problem that you have there is a potential for collateral damage.

COOPER: Colonel Leighton, it's hard obviously to get in the head of anybody particular something like -- particularly like Bashar al- Assad, actually I'm just kidding. I'm just totally just gotten some video in that comes from the social media in Syria not independently verified it. It doesn't seem to show much. But it's the first that we are seeing for report show part of some of the strike.

Let's take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god. Here is a missile.


COOPER: And Christiane Amanpour has new information from the British on targeting in strikes as well. Christiane?

AMANPOUR: Yes. As you see that video coming in, we've got some pretty good detail from the British actually who are basically saying they joined precisely 46 minutes ago this attack. They are saying that they are using aircraft particularly Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s. They launched Storm Shadow missiles at a military facility of former missile base which was near homes as we know lot about homes where the Syrian regime is assessed to keep chemical weapons precursor stockpiled.

So they have said that very careful analysis has been, you know, applied to detect the best places to target and to minimize casualties and to minimize the risk of contamination once they shoot and strike these. Because remember, you know, these are chemical weapons and precursors and stockpiles. So even though they want to go after this, it's really important to make sure that it doesn't contaminate and doesn't, you know, affect civilians.

So this is very, very detailed. So there are planes in the air and they are doing that work there, of course, we did hear that whatever happened this time around, it had to be bigger than what happened last year, because what happened last year with the 59 cruise missiles clearly didn't stops Bashar al-Assad.

[21:45:13] So you're talking about all of these attacks in Damascus in reports there. I was told very clearly that "regime assets" must be targeted this time. It must be painful to the Assad regime, to the point that he understands that this will no longer be tolerated.

And I think that you heard the President and the others say they sustained nature of such an attack is to respond potentially more times when they actually used these chemical weapons and hope that they won't anymore.

COOPER: We're going to be going to Nick Paton Walsh in Northern Syria. I want to show some Syrian television just some images we are getting in. Let's just take a look at this.

Again, we are seeing these images for the first time, not really seeing much right there.

Nick Paton Walsh, I understand you have new information on targets.

WALSH: Yes. Coming in slowly, Anderson, and mostly everything with caveat these are very preliminary of course. But the Syrians have human rights, who are well known to have good access to regime information or again, saying, a research center has being hit. But importantly they go until what number of basis for the Republican guard -- the Syrian Republican guard being hit, as well as the fourth division.

Now, there are elite armored group who are recently being reported to be in action in eastern Ghouta where Douma is where that attack occurred last weekend.

On top of that too, now -- we're now hearing from an eyewitness near Aleppo, the northern city half of which was under rebel control until a brutal assault by the regime to kick the rebels out a couple of years ago that the Al Marab (ph) based there has to be in the target at explosions here.

So multiple different sites here at this point, not the simple one, I'll show that air base that we saw back in April. It was considered to be the sites of (inaudible) sarin gas attack later confirm by U.N. Chemical Weapon inspectors, multiple pronged attacks. A list of targets to continues to grow. Anderson.

COOPER: You know, Nick, one of the things that the President tried to do tonight was basically appeal or warn depending on what verb you want to use. Russia and Iran saying to both nation what sort of a nation wants to be associated with a mass murder criticizing Russia for failing to live up to a promise. He said, they made in 2013 to eliminate chemical weapons from Syria.

The likelihood though of any change in behavior from Russia, from Iran and Syria and someone who has been covering it for a long time, what is that likelihood?

WALSH: Very little indeed. Russia has a strategic interest here of showing that it's a big player again, in the region. It wants the Mediterranean air base that is built up to remain a powerful force for it. Iran too is relishing the fact that it has frankly a clear transit route all the way from Tehran and some argue straight through to Lebanon where it can continue to pressure Israel to the south of Lebanon.

These are the new realities of the Middle East here. Those are unlikely to change. But Donald Trump's statement was quite clearly designed to express the ferocity of the response against chemical weapons, but also provide a very fine night limit to how far it wanted to go to appeal to Moscow and Tehran to potentially distance themselves from a chemical weapons use of Damascus alleged by the U.S., U.K. and France at this point.

Remember, it was in 2013 when sarin gas was used outskirt of Damascus that Russia pressured Syria to give up its chemical weapons. Well, some of them at least, and join the chemical weapons convention that had not been a party too. They're maybe appealing to that again, potentially, but we are also in a different world frankly since Russia is being denying the use of a nerve agents and self-spray (ph) the United Kingdom to kill a former Russian spy and denying the use of chemical weapons entirely saying these inspectors couldn't find them when they assist the sites Douma just this past week.

But still interesting to see Donald Trump there quite clear that this is about chemical weapons, not about clanging the strategic balance in the region here. Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. And nothing obviously about regime change which early on was something the U.S. had openly talked about.

I also joined by retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona with his sense of experience in the region, including some of the places being target. He joins us tonight.

And actually before he joins us tonight, I want to tell you that Syrian State T.V. is reporting they have intercepted 13 missiles. They claim and again, this is Syrian state media, so take it for what it's worth. The Syrian authorities have lied systematically over the last seven years of this civil war. They are claiming that they have shut down some 13 missiles obviously, this is very early repots and this is Syrian state television is reporting tonight.

Lieutenant Colonel Francona, A, what do you make of this report by Syrian state television and you served in Syria and the embassy in Damascus. What stands out to you tonight?

[21:50:07] LIEUTENANT COLONEL RICK FRANCONA (RET.), FMR U.S. MILITARY ATTACHE IN SYRIA: Well, I would just count much of what the Syrians are saying. They claim this all of the time. They may have engaged the missiles of course and then may even hit some. But 13 -- we don't know how many were launched. So we'll see what happens there.

I did want to talk to the targeting of this. If you remember what happened a year ago they -- we struck Sherrod air base. Sherrod air base is kind of an isolated base kind of off the beaten path. So the risk to -- for civilian casualties was fairly low.

What we're hitting right now, Massey air base, Barse (ph), Jeremiah, these are research and development facilities right in the center of Damascus. So the fact that we feel confident enough to put cruise missiles right into a major metropolitan area says something to the targeting that we've shifted from an isolated air base to a metropolitan area. Massey air base, it's on the south side of Damascus.

Key part of the chemical weapons program all the research and development happens at the research facilities, the weapons are stored at the Massey air base that was hit. And they were -- many of these attacks were launched from Gomier (ph) air base 20 miles northeast of Damascus also hit. So we're going after the targets that are part of the chemical weapon program, but these targets were very, very difficult and post the risk for the civilian population. So we'll see how accurate the targeting has been.

COOPER: Our Nic Robertson is standing by in Moscow for us tonight. Nic, any statements by the regime in Moscow?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Nothing by the regime and something from scene of how navy main opposition figure here of course denied the opportunity to run in recent elections but he has said Assad is no friend of the Russians and President Putin is using the money of Russian pensioners to prop up Assad and keep him in power.

So certainly the opposition here using this as an opportunity to get their voice out, thinking about what President Trump said military economic and diplomatic measures to be brought to bear here. It was President Macron of France that called President Trump by phone today and told him that he was disappointed and worried about the state of the -- the civil war in Syria and the humanitarian situation, the desperate nature of the state for people that at the civilians that he wanted to see dialogue there to bring about peace and stability.

But the last line of the communication from the French government was very interesting. It said President Macron told President Putin that he hoped that the dialogue between them could continue and that really does seem indicative that perhaps something was coming.

Now we're seeing it playing out, that after this, President Macron will be picking up the phone or will continue to have that dialogue and President Trump is out lining, the diplomacy shall continue, the messages still shall come to the Russian government. But all we've heard from the Russian government over the past days is pushback and bluster and denial when they have been told that they have a responsibility for ensuring that President Bashar al-Assad got rid of all of these chemical weapons.

It's been pushed back to say to the United States and its allies if you target Syria, you are endangering the stability not just of the region but of the world. So nothing official yet, but the opposition here clearly has something to say about it, too.

COOPER: Nic, I just want to remind our viewers, we're expecting a pentagon briefing at 10:00 p.m. eastern time, just about seven -- six and a half minutes from now, we'll obviously going to bring that you live. Also we're going to our Jim Bittermann who's standing by in Paris. Jim. Obviously this is an operation not just of American forces, British forces but also French forces.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: French -- As Nic indicated that the French have been very forward-leaning on this Anderson. They've been advocating the use of force not only this time around, but back in 2013 when there were chemical weapons attacks. We just got a communicate from the presidency at this in the last hour.

So about 3:45 in the morning here and basically the President says that he confirms that they've joined. He also confirms what you've been talking about, that this action will be limited to Syrian regime forces that are involved with the production and delivery of chemical weapons. So they're hoping that that it'll be limited to just those kinds of things.

The President indicated one small hiccup though in their operations and that is that he said he will organize a debate in the parliament in the days to come to talk about this military intervention. He can order the troops into action but he has to take it to the parliament.

So if this is some kind of sustained operation, it could be like operation sparks a little controversy out on the streets here. So we'll have to see how -- what the public reactions mind to be in this.

[21:55:02] But yes, the French are involved here. They've got 10 rifle fighters in the UAE and Jordan that could be flying missions. They've got frigate that's off the coast that has cruise missiles on it, as well as air defense missiles. So a number of different assets that they have in the region that they could call -- bring into bear.

One of the major assets that they have told us (ph) ago, aircraft carriers, in fact the import being refitted right now and we'll not be any part of this action unless it goes on for some months, Anderson.


BITTERMANN: Jim Bittermann in Paris. We are expecting, again, a briefing just about four minutes from now. I'm going to bring in our Doug Brinkley, Presidential Historian in a moment. I also just want to go quickly go to John Kirby. He's getting plenty of such briefings in his day.

Admiral Kirby, what should we expect you think from the military tonight in terms of specific information?

KIRBY: I think it's possible this briefing could be by Secretary Mattis himself. And I suspect that he'll layout his -- what we hit, why we hit those sites and probably a good sense of sort of what munitions they were struck. So he'll sort to put some definitiveness to what we've been reporting and seeing over the last hour or so.

I think he will also really try to bound this, Anderson. I think he'll be clear that this does not mean we're getting further enmeshed in the Civil War. He'll say that it doesn't change the military mission on the ground in Syria, which is still focused on ISIS.

And while he will probably admit that there could be follow-on strikes based on the battle damage assessment of these strikes and of any Russian or Iranian reaction, I think he'll say that they're going to sort of take that as it comes.

I don't think he's going to be announcing some major long -- prolonged air campaign. I think he's going to be very measured and really kind of keep this within some sort of scope.

ANDERSON: As we wait for this military briefing, I want to bring in Doug Brinkley who is with me. Doug, I'm wondering what you make of what we're seeing tonight.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I thought President Trump made it clear that Assad is evil and despicable as he put it, we've all know that. Many people in the west think about that. The question is, is it more of a Mattis limited strike or is this a Bolton let's go at it for three or four days?

The good news is Donald Trump has worked to have a coalition of the willing. He has Great Britain and France working with us. But it's raining cruise missiles on Syria right now and in the Middle East it is such a tender box anything can go wrong. In the cloak of darkness, we can't see what is happening. But in the morning, some of these missiles might have killed civilians and we'll have to keep an eye on it.

ANDERSON: Doug, just in terms of -- I mean obviously for the commander-in-chief, this is one of the most difficult decisions to make, to address the nation like this. He did make very clear that this was limited in terms of what the targeting is, that this is not -- he made no mention of regime change, of some sort of long commitment to Syria. And also I should point out we just learned B-1 bombers were also used in this operation.

BRINKLEY: Well and you have that phrase sustained response that we're saying over and over again. That's what jumped out at me what the President said, what is a sustained response. This isn't just hitting one air base or destroying the Damascus Airport, this seems to be wanting to make a very large and loud message and we don't know what Russia is going to do or say. We don't know what Iran is going to do.

Israel right now, of course, gave some of the key intelligence to where to strike. But they must be on high national security alert in that country. The larger question is, can this be a kind of contained strike in Syria or is there a ripple effect or reverberation throughout the Middle East?

And, you know, it does ring our bells here of the gulf war that you covered Anderson with George Herbert Walker Bush 41and then George W. Bush 43, meaning night time bombing in the Middle East.

ANDERSON: And also, Doug, I mean, obviously this is a President who just some two weeks ago talked about sort of deescalating the U.S. involvement in Syria, some 2,000 U.S., mostly Special Forces, in a number of locations throughout the country fighting against ISIS.

The President has cited, you know, the huge progress that has been made in that. He talked about bringing those forces home, focusing more on the U.S. but, you know, events on the ground often overtake the best laid plans or desires of any administration and you have this strike on Saturday in Douma.

BRINKLEY: Absolutely. I mean, Syria is a conundrum. Nobody knows what to do there. It cost President Barack Obama a real kind of cut to his legacy when he did the famous red line there. Donald Trump had campaigned on basically wanting to stay out of the Syrian situation. The fact of his closeness or seaming closeness to Putin's Russia has been a factor.

But Donald Trump showed early in his presidency that when it comes to Assad's deployment of chemical weapons that he's ready to be marshal. He was last year and he's doing it again this year in a much larger and bigger way than I think Bolton may be having an influence on the scope of what's going on here. We'll have to see if General Mattis is the one to speak to us in a few minutes.