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CNN TONIGHT

U.S. and Its Allies Attack Assad's Chemical Facilities; U.S. Launches Precision Strikes On Syria. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[22:00:00] (JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And Admiral Kirby, as we wait for the briefing at the top of the hour, 10 p.m. here on the East Coast and we might have to jump in on you, Admiral Kirby.

KIRBY: Yes, sure.

COOPER: But just in terms of -- it looks like -- we are getting ready so let's take a look.

KIRBY: All right.

JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, good evening, ladies and gentlemen. As the world knows, the Syrian people have suffered terribly under the prolonged brutality of the Assad regime.

On April 7, the regime decided to again defy the norms of civilized people, showing callous, disregard for international law, by using chemical weapons to murder women, children and other innocents.

We and our allies find these atrocities inexcusable. As our commander in chief, the president has the authority under Article II of the Constitution to use military force overseas to defend important United States national interests. The United States has vital national interests in averting a worsening catastrophe in Syria, and specifically deterring the use and proliferation of chemical weapons.

Last year, in response to a chemical weapons attack against civilians and to signal the regime to cease chemical weapons use, we targeted the military base from which the weapons were delivered.

Earlier today, President Trump directed the U.S. military to conduct operations in consonance with our allies to destroy the Syrian regime's chemical weapons research development and production capability.

Tonight, France, the United Kingdom and the United States took decisive action to strike the Syrian chemical weapons infrastructure.

Clearly, the Assad regime did not get the message last year. This time our allies and we have struck harder. Together we have sent a clear message to Assad and his murderous lieutenants that they should not perpetrate another chemical weapons attack for which they will be held accountable. The 70 nations in the defeat-ISIS Coalition remain committed to

defeating ISIS in Syria.

The strike tonight separately demonstrates international resolve to prevent chemical weapons from being used on anyone under any circumstances in contravention of international law. 2

I want to emphasize that these strikes are directed at the Syrian regime. In conducting these strikes we have gone to great lengths to avoid civilian and foreign casualties.

But it is a time for all civilized nations to urgently unite and ending the Syrian civil war by supporting the United Nations-backed Geneva Peace Process.

In accordance with the chemical weapons convention prohibiting the use of such weapons, we urge responsible nations to condemn the Assad regime and to join us in our firm resolve to prevent chemical weapons from being used again.

General Dunford will provide a military update.

JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN, UNITED STATES JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Good evening.

I'm joined by our French attache Brigadier General Montague and our British Attached Air Vice Marshal Gavin Parker. Secretary Mattis has just outlined the policy and legal framework for tonight's strike in Syria. I'll address the strike for the military dimension.

At 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, French, British and U.S. forces struck targets in Syria in support of President Trump's objective to deter the future use of chemical weapons. Our forces were integrated throughout the planning and execution of the operation.

The targets that were struck and destroyed were specifically associated with the Syrian regime's chemical weapons program. We also selected targets that would minimize the risk to innocent civilians.

The first target was a scientific research center located in the greater Damascus area. This military facility was a Syrian center for the research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology.

The second target was a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs. We assessed that this was the primary location of Syrian sarin and precursor production equipment.

The third target, which was in the vicinity of the second target, contained both a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and an important command post.

U.S., British and French Naval and Air Forces were involved in the operation. And for reasons of operational security, I won't be more specific this evening. [22:05:03] Before we take questions, I'd like to address how this

evening's strike were qualitatively and quantitatively different than 2017.

Last year, we conducted a unilateral strike on a single site. The focus was on the aircraft associated with the Syrian chemical weapons attack in April of 2017.

This evening we conducted strikes with two allies on multiple sites that will result in a long-term degradation of Syria's capability to research, develop and employ chemical and biological weapons. Important infrastructure was destroyed, which will result in a setback for the Syrian regime. They will lose years of research and development data, specialized equipment and expensive chemical weapons precursors.

The strike was not only a strong message to the regime that their actions were inexcusable, but it also inflicted maximum damage, without unnecessary risk to innocent civilians.

And with that the secretary and I would be glad to take your questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Secretary, first of all, have -- did the U.S. suffer any losses initially? And more broadly, could you -- the president in his remarks said that the U.S. and its allies are prepared to sustain this operation until Syria stop using chemical weapons. Does that mean the U.S. and its partners will continue military operations beyond this initial operation tonight?

MATTIS: That will depend on Mr. Assad, should he decide to use more chemical weapons in the future. And of course, the powers that have signed the chemical weapons prohibition have every reason to challenge Assad should he choose to violate that. But right now this is a one- time shot, and I believe it has sent a very strong message to dissuade him, to deter him from doing this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any U.S. losses?

MATTIS: We'll brief on that in the -- we're not -- we want to give you a full brief in the morning. Right now we have no reports of losses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Secretary Mattis, Chairman Dunford, thank you for doing that.

Have you seen any retaliation from the Russians or the Iranians and how -- and how long do you think this operation could last? Is it a matter of hours or days, or could it go longer than that?

DUNFORD: Yes. We did -- we did have some initial surface-to-air- missile activity from the Syrian regime. That's the only retaliatory action that we're aware of at this time, and the -- and the nature of the operation, we've completed the targets that were assigned to the United States Central Command. Those operations are complete.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: General Dunford and also Secretary Mattis, could you talk a little bit more about your concerns that you've expressed earlier in the week about Russian escalation.

General Dunford, were you able to talk to your Russian counterpart, General Gerasimov? What are your concerns about escalation? And if we're permitted to ask your British counterpart a question, I would like to know the sense of your government about whether the situation with the Skripals and the Russian involvement in that, how that Russian involvement played a role in your decision to enter this coalition this evening?

DUNFORD: Barbara, let me address the last point first. Our attaches was kind enough to join us this evening. They're not going to get out in front of their president and prime minister, respectively--

(CROSSTALK)

STARR: OK, fair enough.

DUNFORD: -- so that they'll -- the national messages will be provided from their capitals here very soon.

But with regard to the Russian concerns, we specifically identified these targets to mitigate the risk of Russian forces being involved, and we used our normal deconfliction channels - those were active this week - to work through the airspace issue and so forth. We did do not do any coordination with the Russians on the strikes, nor did we pre- notify them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Secretary, it was just a couple of days ago that you said you were still assessing the intelligence on the chemicals weapons attacks, suspected attack. So at this point do you know what the chemical was used in that attack? Was it sarin? Was it chlorine?

And also, what is your evidence it was actually delivered by the Syrian regime?

MATTIS: Say the last part again, Tom?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your evidence it was delivered by the Syrian regime? Are you quite clear it was?

MATTIS: I am confident the Syrian regime conducted a chemical attack on innocent people in this last week, yes. Absolutely confident of it. And we have the intelligence level of confidence that we needed to conduct the attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And as far as the actual chemical used, do you know what it was? Was it nerve agent? Was there chlorine? Do you have a sense of what it was?

MATTIS: We are very much aware of one of the agents. There may have been more than one agent used. We are not clear on that yet. We know at least one chemical agent was used.

[22:10:07] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to clarify on the deconfliction line. You notified the Russians ahead of time before the operation began what you were going to do and what targets you were going to strike?

DUNFORD: Gordon, to be clear, the only -- the only communications that took place specifically associated with this operation before the targets were struck was the normal deconfliction of the airspace, the procedures that are in place for all of our operations in Syria.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: General Dunford, you mentioned that the Russian -- or the Syrian air defenses had engaged, but Syrian State TV is saying they shot down 13 Tomahawk missiles. Can you refute that?

DUNFORD: Jennifer, I can't tell you the results. We literally, as you know, the time on target was about an hour ago, and we came straight up here to give you the best information we have right now.

Tomorrow morning, as the secretary will talk about in a minute, we'll give you the more detailed operational update and some of the details, but those details aren't available to us right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This wave of airstrikes is over.

DUNFORD: This wave of airstrikes is over. That's why we're out here speaking to you now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Secretary Mattis, I just wanted to follow up on what you said about the legal basis for this strike. Could you talk a little bit more about that, because in your testimony the other day, it sounded like you were saying that this -- a potential strike would somehow be linked to self defense, and that the presence of American forces in Syria. Can you say a little bit more about that?

And also regarding whether or not there will be future action or additional strikes, you said that would depend on whether or not the Assad government conducts future chemical attacks.

But could you explain a little bit more about what would be the threshold for that, because there were repeated chemical attacks between the April 2017 attack and today.

MATTIS: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And would you consider a small-scale chlorine attack sufficient to launch additional strikes?

MATTIS: Right now I would just tell you we're in close consultation with our allies. We review all of the evidence all of the time. It is difficult, as you know, to get evidence out of Syria. But right now we have no additional attacks planned.

But as far as the legal authority under the Article II of the Constitution, we believe the president has every reason to defend vital American interests, and that is what he did here tonight under that authority.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, sir. A couple of questions for General Dunford. What were some of the targeting considerations or difficulties involving going after chemical facilities? How long did the operation take to plan?

And for Secretary Mattis, last year -- last year's strikes were described as proportional, moderate. How would you describe this year's in contrast to that?

DUNFORD: Yes, Tony, we chose these particular targets to mitigate the risk of civilian casualties, number one. We chose these targets because they were specifically associated with the chemical program, the Syrian chemical program.

And obviously when we take a look at target planning and so forth, we look at the location relative to other populated areas, collateral damage, proportionality. So these targets were carefully selected with proportionality discrimination and being specifically associated with the chemical program.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All standoff weapons or any manned aircraft--

(CROSSTALK)

DUNFORD: We're going to -- we're going to -- there were manned aircraft involved. I won't give you any of the details of the operation until tomorrow morning, but we will do that at that time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A question to Secretary Mattis. So up until yesterday, and I'm going to quote you here, you said, "I cannot tell you that we have evidence. So when did you become confident that a chemical attack happened?

And the second one--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTIS: Yes, yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since yesterday, after you said that.

MATTIS: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then second, you talked about targeting the chemical weapons infrastructure of Bashar al-Assad. If there were actually any chemical weapons or agents in those facilities that you targeted, I assume they would create health hazard in the region, or no?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. MATTIS: We don't believe -- we did very close analysis, as the chairman pointed out. We did everything we could in our intelligence assessment and our planning to minimize to the maximum degree possible any chance of civilian casualties.

We are very much aware this is difficult to do in a situation like this, especially when the poison gas that Assad assured the world he had gotten rid of obviously still exists. So it is a challenging problem set, and we had the right military officers dealing with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you can confirm there's going to no leak into the air or--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTIS: Of course not. We'll do our best.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tara Copp?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: General Dunford, when the surface-to-air defenses engaged, did they become a target, and did U.S. air power or other assets take out those targets?

[22:15:03] DUNFORD: Yes, Tara, I'm not aware of any response that we took 2right now. Again, we'll gather overnight. As you can imagine, we tried to leave the United States Central Command alone here tonight. They were quite busy. We'll, through the night, gather the operational detail, and we'll be back tomorrow morning to provide that to you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Secretary Mattis or Chairman Dunford, have -- last time, last year you changed the force-protection levels for the Syrian troops, that were U.S. troops that were in Syria. There are 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria. Have you changed course force-protection levels based on potential responses from Russia?

DUNFORD: Yes, Hans, as you can imagine, the commander always takes prudent measures, especially in an environment that they were in tonight. So they did make adjustments.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And just to be clear on the deconfliction line, you told them that you're going to be operating in airspace, but you didn't tell them, the Russians, what the targets were and then--

(CROSSTALK)

DUNFORD: That is absolutely correct. We used the normal deconfliction channels to deconflict the airspace that we were using. We did not coordinate targets or any plans with the Russians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was their response, sir?

DUNFORD: Well, that information was passed at the operational link from the Combined Air Operational Center in Qatar, so I wasn't on the line, but we -- that kind of information just, to put it in perspective, is passed routinely, every day and every night. So they may not have found anything unusual about that particular airspace deconfliction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Way in the back.

KATRINA MANSON, U.S. FOREIGN POLICY AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT, FINANCIAL TIMES: Thank you so much. Katrina Manson with the Financial Times.

Can you talk a little bit about any Iran targets that you were initially -- Iran-associated targets, that you initially considered, and why you may have not gone to them? And could your colleagues explain exactly the sort of contribution that you've made to tonight's operation.

MATTIS: Again, our allied officers are here out of respect for the fact that they were part of the mission from planning all the way through to the political decision taken. And once their heads of state speak tomorrow, then that will be the initial statement from those capitals.

But as far as any other targets, we looked at targets specifically designed to address the chemical weapons threat that we have seen manifested. The whole world has watched in horror these weapons being used. Those were the only targets that we were examining for prosecution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Secretary and General Dunford, you mentioned three target areas that were struck. How can you be sure that from now on these are all of the target areas, or all of the involved production facilities for chemical weapons that the Syrians have -- are using? And do you believe that there are additional locations where they are producing such materials?

DUNFORD: That's a great question. We had a number of targets to select from. And again, we did not select those that had a high risk of collateral damage, and specifically a high risk of civilian casualties.

And so the weaponeering -- you know, you back to your earlier question, the weaponeering was done, the modeling was done to make sure that we mitigated the risk of any chemicals that were in those facilities, and mitigated the 2risk of civilian casualties.

So, with our other targets that we looked at, there were -- we selected these specific targets both based on the significance to the chemical weapons program, as well as the location and the layout.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks. Secretary Mattis, it seems like this strike tonight was pretty limited, not too dissimilar from last year. I know it was three -- three targets this time instead of one but it still seems a little bit more targeted and more specific than what I think a lot of people were expecting.

Can you walk us through your decision to -- did concern about escalation with Russia and it affects your decision to keep this more targeted? And moving from there, how much assurance can you give us that this is

going to do what the strike last year didn't do, which is basically to stop President Assad from using chemical weapons again.

MATTIS: Helene, 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 2year. 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. We were not out to expand this. We were very precise and proportionate. But at the same time, it was a heavy strike.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Secretary, prior to the attack, how important was it to get the support from the allies, not only from an intelligence point of view but also just from the countries themselves?

MATTIS: It's always important that we act internationally in a unified way over something, especially that is -- that is such an atrocity as this, that we've observed going on in Syria.

[22:19:58] But I would also tell you that these allies -- the Americans, the French, the British -- we have operated together through thick and thin, through good times and bad, and this is a very, very well-integrated team. Wherever we operate, we do so with complete trust in each other, the professionalism, but more than that, the belief that one another will be there when the chips are down. So it's important, and it's a -- it's a statement about the level of trust between our nations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: General Dunford, could you just let us know whether the Syrians were able to hide a lot of these chemical weapons in the last several days, since there's been so much talk about a possible strike? Did that give the Syrians time to kind of move some of these weapons off limits -- off limits?

And then, Secretary Mattis, just to confirm earlier when you were saying you had information about one of the chemicals, but we're all assuming that means chlorine, that you have information confirming chlorine, but not necessarily sarin. Can you just clarify that?

DUNFORD: Yes, Phil, for the first question, I'm not aware of any specific actions that the Syrians took to move chemical weapons in last couple of days.

MATTIS: Yes, we're very confident that chlorine was used. We are not ruling out sarin right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General, I'd like to follow up on Luis' question about the targets that you first examined, and then triaged down to the three tonight. It sounds like you went after facilities and not the actual weapons, as indicated earlier, to minimize accidental risk to civilians.

In the targets that remain, could you characterize perhaps the ability to pursue and to ramp up again, and again have chemical weapons? DUNFORD: Yes, I think it's too early to make that assessment. It's too early to make that assessment right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The last questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. General Dunford, did any Russian defenses engage U.S., British or French ships or missiles?

And Secretary Mattis, were any of the strikes tonight intended to kill Bashar al-Assad?

DUNFORD: The only -- the only reaction that I'm aware of at this time was Syrian surface-to-air missiles. I happened to be down in an actual command -- military command center and was aware of that activity. I'm not aware of any Russian activity, and I'm not aware of the full scope of the Syrian regime response at this time.

Again, those will be details we'll pull together for you in the morning.

MATTIS: Yes, the targets tonight, again, were specifically designed to degrade the Syrian war machine's ability to create chemical weapons, and to set that back right now. There were no attempts to broaden or expand that target set.

And, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming in this evening.

Based on recent experience, we fully expect a significant disinformation campaign over the coming days by those who have aligned themselves with the Assad regime.

And in an effort to maintain transparency and accuracy, my assistant for public affairs, Ms. Dana White and Lieutenant General McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff here in Washington, will provide a brief of known details tomorrow morning, we anticipate about 9 o'clock in this same location.

But thank you again for coming in this evening, ladies and gentlemen.

DO LEMON, CNN HOST: So there you go. You have been watching the Pentagon briefing there given by the Chairman of Joint Chiefs, General James Dunford and the Defense Secretary General James Mattis at the Pentagon updating America and the world really on air-strikes that have now landed in Syria at this hour.

A couple of things before we get to our folks who are following this story, including our man on the ground there in northern Syria.

That General James Mattis started by saying that the people of Syria have suffered terribly under this Assad regime and then talking about the atrocities, saying the atrocities were unacceptable, also saying that they are taking as much precaution as possible so that civilians would not be hit.

He said that he is confident that chlorine gas was used but not sure about sarin, saying they used double the weapon this year as last year as you remember there was an air strike on Syria this time last year as well.

So they were very precise, they were proportionate but it was a heavy strike.

A lot to get to, a lot to talk about in the coming hours here on CNN as the air-strikes have now hit Syria. I want to get to Jim Sciutto, also Pamela Brown at the White House and Nick Paton Walsh as I said who is in northern Syria.

I want to begin now though with Jim. Jim, we heard Secretary Mattis talk about the targets tonight and what the goal of the strike -- what the goals. Tell us about that.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Don, we learned a lot in that briefing from Mattis and Dunford, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff.

First of all, Mattis made very clear, he said this was a one-time shot, a limited one night strike purely on chemical weapons facilities. That is not what the president said moments before Mattis went to the podium. The president described a sustained U.S. response to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons.

[22:24:59] How do you reconcile those two statements? It's possible that you do because Mattis did say that if these weapons were to be used again there would be a response, but in terms of this strike, it's a one-time shot and that appears to be different than the way the president characterized it earlier.

When you look at the targets struck, it was purely about chemical weapons, it was not about going after the regime trying to weaken the regime.

Mattis made very clear that this was directed at Syria, the Syrian regime and not Russia. That is key because Mattis as we know in the debates leading up to this decision tonight had been concerned about escalation that might bring the U.S. into conflict with any Russian forces on the ground there.

The final point I would make is this, it's remarkable to hear from Mattis for him to say that -- very confident that chlorine gas was used. That we knew and that's has been used dozens of times over the course of the past year without any U.S. response. No definitive answer on a nerve agent or sarin gas.

In fact, he said, we're not ruling it out. I mean, that's a remarkable step behind from where -- it felt like the evidence was going this week and what seemed to be the standard for U.S. strike here, what distinguished this use of chemical weapons was that it appeared that a nerve agent was used.

But Mattis saying that more than a week after the attack happened, simply just not ruling it out, that's interesting. They clearly don't have the evidence standard that they had set out early on as distinguishing this attack. And that raises this question going forward, don. Because if they have said the next time the Assad regime uses the

weapons the U.S. will give a military response, look at the past year. Chlorine gas has been used by this regime dozens of times over the course of the past year. Does that mean the U.S. is going to respond militarily to each of those? You know, you could say the administration set something of a red line here that's going to be tested going forward.

LEMON: Well -- and Jim, he did say -- this is a one-time shot right now to dissuade him, meaning Bashar al-Assad from doing it again, but also indicating that saying it's a one-time shot to dissuade him, dissuade meaning if he doesn't it then there is a possibility of more strikes. Again, you mentioned Russia--

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: And he said that explicitly.

LEMON: Yes.

SCIUTTO: He said a one-time shot unless they see the use of this kind of weapons again.

LEMON: Again, yes. And you mentioned Russia. He said no coordination with the Russians nor did we pre-notify them.

And I want to get to Barbara Starr. Barbara, I think it's important to point out Jim talked about the kind of weapons used and the types of facilities that were target. A scientific research center in Damascus area, whether he believes that they were testing chemicals. A weapons storage facility west of Homs, he said, where they believe sarin gas may have been held -- stored there. Chemical weapons storage facility and so on. Three different targets, all relating to chemical weapons.

STARR: Don, what is so extraordinary is what you just mentioned, that they went downtown Damascus essentially and struck a target in Damascus, associated with Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons research capability.

Damascus is a city and the other location you mentioned Homs, this is an area of Syria that is heavily defended by both Syrian and Russian air defenses. They did mention that they saw some activity by Syrian air defenses, we will learn tomorrow whether any of the allied missiles were potentially in fact shot down by those air defenses.

But the U.S., the allies have not gone to Damascus in the past. That is something that is very new. On the question of whether they will do this again, the president talked about the potential for a sustained response but he was not specific on whether he meant a military response.

So the secretary is stepping in and saying tonight that this is where it stands. This is complete, unless Assad uses chemical weapons again.

I suspect this is an effort to tell the American people that they are not entering a new war against the Syrian regime at this point. But reserving the capability to go after this again.

Again, very, very focused on Assad chemical weapons capability. That is clearly what they wanted to go after. We expect another military briefing here -- early in the morning where we will learn more about exactly what assets were used and what aircraft, what ships may have launched missiles and what essentially the result is.

At first light, what wreckage will there be. And I think it's really interesting that the secretary concluded by saying that he fully expected a -- essentially a disinformation -- a propaganda campaign on this by those associated with the Assad regime.

[22:29:56] Make no mistake, they feel very strongly that the Russians will step in, in the coming hours and put out a lot of information that the allies will say is not true and so they are going to come out tomorrow, they say, and be as transparent as they can in advance of what essentially they feel may be a Russian propaganda campaign on this, Don.

LEMON: Barbara Starr, I want you to stand by at Pentagon. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon where the briefing was held just a short time ago and reiterating the targets specifically associated with chemical weapons. As I get to Nick Paton Walsh, 5:30 a.m. and obviously in the morning, first light, Barbara mentioned first light, mentioned the targets there.

A chemical weapons storage facility. A chemical weapons, another chemical weapons storage facility and command post as well, and also a scientific research center in Damascus area where they believe they were testing these chemicals. Nick, take us there. What are you seeing now and what is going on?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm obviously in Northern Syria, far from the regime-held area. I'm in the area where Syrian Kurds are in control with U.S. forces, backing them. But let's go through the areas we're talking about here. Damascus facility for the development and production of chemical weapons.

As Barbara pointed out, that is within the sort of more heavily defended parts of the capital. Importantly though it's Homs where two targets appear to have been hit, the key city to the north far of Damascus there along the border with Lebanon. That one of the second facilities there as Jim Mattis referred -- sorry, Jim (INAUDIBLE) referred to as a primary sarin production and storage facility.

Important because although Jim Mattis wouldn't be specific about what they thought the chemical used was, it may be some sort of sarin-like mixture melted in with chlorine. Sarin is clearly within their target list here.

A third target nearby that Homs facility, remember it is the British who say some of the Shadow Storm missiles seemed to have been sent in the direction of Homs, the third target was also a command post as well as being involved in the production and storage of chemical weapons. There have been some social media reports hinting it may be (INAUDIBLE) being one of those possible targets here. A lot of other things on social media and in media reports as well the state media, from eye witnesses too, suggest things may have been hit as well outside of the limited target list mentioned by Mr. Mattis -- sorry, Secretary Mattis and General Dunford there.

But that of course is the confusion of perhaps anti-aircraft rounds (ph) being involved made the explosions and reverberating of hillsides and so depending on the geography of where you are. So a lot of information coming around here.

Now Syrian state television has claimed some of the attacks on Homs were in fact thwarted. Now Secretary Mattis referred to -- sorry, General Dunford referred to a surface to where missile retaliation by the regime are being noted by them.

But I have to point out here, Don, you know, from the moment in which we first heard eyewitness reports in Damascus while Donald Trump was speaking of first explosions to the moment in which Jim Mattis said it was over was an hour and 10 minutes. So an incredibly small 17-minute window for these strikes to occur.

A lot of the places I've been talking to about too historically appear to have been reported or have been hit in the past often by Israeli jets (INAUDIBLE) into Syria over the past is taking out specific threats that concern them.

On top of that, Reuters are in fact quoting -- a senior pro-Assad official, unnamed, suggested that this is it, this is being comparatively limited. So perhaps the messaging from Damascus even though the strikes are frankly the worst the residents will have seen for quite sometime.

We haven't really had people responding on social media or across the sort of Syrian (INAUDIBLE) regime side like this for quite sometime. But maybe an effort by the regime suggested this is comparatively limited in the damage that it has done although as they said, the U.S. used the double of the number of weapons that they did in April of last year, and they say the U.S. in April last year took out 20 percent --

LEMON: Nick.

PATON WALSH: -- of the regime air force --

LEMON: Nick, I need to jump in and tell the viewer. Thank you, Nick. I need to jump in. These are live pictures now that you are getting now from the region that we're looking at. Again, according to the generals there at the press briefing, the only Syrian response so far, surface-to-air missiles.

But again, this started at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. A coordinated effort between France, Britain, and the United States. Again, targets specifically they say associated with the chemical weapons they believe that are still there. Bashar al-Assad promised those chemical weapons would be gone but as the general said, obviously not. They have confirmation. They believe that he used chlorine on innocent people. He conducted chemical attacks on innocent people.

Nick is standing by in the region. In the meantime, I want to get to Washington now. Pamela Brown is standing by.

Pamela, the president addressed the nation tonight to explain this attack. He talked about a sustained attack.

[22:35:00] That is not what Secretary Mattis said. Secretary Mattis said this one-time attack now, unless Bashar al-Assad does not get the message.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is clear. There seems to be different messages there from what we heard with the president saying that the U.S. is prepared for a sustained response and from Secretary Mattis saying that essentially for now this operation is over with.

And when you look at the back story of this week leading up to today, it helps paint a clear picture of why that is. The president throughout this week has been pushing for a stronger campaign and more muscular response, Don.

On the other hand, Secretary Mattis and other Pentagon officials have been more reticent for that because their concern has been if it's not a calibrated response, then it could bring the U.S. in direct conflict with Russia and that is the last thing that they want.

Now that said, Don, this is certainly a more robust coordinated effort in terms of strikes against Syria than what we saw last year. As Secretary Mattis said, we struck harder compared to last year where there was one target. There are multiple targets this year, he said, around double the number of weapons were used in this case.

I can say one of the questions raised tonight is the lack of congressional approval. That is something that the people are discussing. The president himself in August of 2013 criticized President Obama saying he must get congressional approval before attacking Syria. Big mistake if he does not.

That didn't happen. And we are told that White House officials and other administration officials did alert leaders on Capitol Hill of what would be happening here. Also you have Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and others coming out, raising questions about the strike, saying this is not a comprehensive strategy on Syria.

Certainly there are questions when you hear the president say on one hand we are prepared to do a sustained strike and on the other -- sustained response, and on the other hand saying that we will not have a -- a definite presence in Syria. That is not something we want. It does raise the question of what the overall strategy is there and in Syria, but certainly this is the Trump administration's second direct military engagement with the Assad government. Don? LEMON: All right. Pamela Brown standing by at the White House. Pamela, we will get back to you in the coming minutes here on CNN. We're following the breaking news out of Syria. The Pentagon holding a press briefing just moments ago.

Also the president of the United States first announcing this -- these airstrikes on Syria, talking about Russia, specifically calling out Russia, saying that Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path, adding that hopefully some day we'll get along with Russia and Iran, but adding maybe not.

Also Russia -- calling on Iran and Russia specifically, asking them what kind of nation they want to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children. Also saying that they will be judged by their company, by the company they keep.

I want to get now to Jim Sciutto in Washington. Jim, the Russians have just responded to the strikes. What have you heard?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That is right. This coming from the Russia ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, and he said the following, the worst apprehensions have come true. Our warnings have been left unheard. A pre-designed scenario is being implemented.

He says, again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. He continues, all responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris. Of course the three countries that participated in the strikes. Insulting the president of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible.

That apparently, Don, a reference to the president's tweet earlier this week. The U.S., the possessor of the biggest arsenal of chemical weapons, has no moral right to blame other countries.

So quite a strong push back as you would expect there from Russia. I should note again that you heard from Defense Secretary Mattis that the strike was directed purely at Syrian forces and he made a point of saying that it was directed at Syria and not Russia.

We know that Mattis had concerns and he expressed to the president about how an attack like this -- if larger or under any circumstances risks an escalation with Russia, which has an enormous military presence in Syria, and you are seeing some of that response here.

I will say, Don, you should be prepared for in the coming days Russia to attempt to take advantage of the U.S. granting that it doesn't have hard proof of the use of a nerve agent here. Russia likes to find fishers like that. It likes to take advantage of questions like that. And therefore question the overall justification for the U.S. attack.

They are very skilled as we know at information warfare and I wouldn't be surprised if they try to take advantage of that for propaganda purposes going forward.

LEMON: Jim, quick response, they are making it plainly clear there was no coordination with the Russians nor did they pre-notify them.

SCIUTTO: That is exactly right. He did say, Mattis, that there was communication between deconfliction channels which they have set up a hotline as it were between U.S. and Russian forces there so that U.S. forces don't get in close proximity to Russian forces so they don't end up shooting at each other.

[22:40:06] But no courtesy advance warning of this, purely deconfliction to no discussion or commiseration in advance of this attack.

LEMON: He also called out the Russian promise that in 2013, they would guarantee the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons and also Mattis in that press briefing as well --

SCIUTTO: That is right. And a fair thing to do -- and probably you could imagine the president calling out in effect the Obama administration for the deal made following that previous use of chemical weapons when the president -- President Obama at the time considered a military response, backed off that red line, developed this deal with Russia, the OPCW, others to remove all the chemical weapons.

It is very clear that all of the chemical weapons were not removed because we've seen the Syrian regime use them repeatedly since then.

LEMON: Jim Sciutto, stand by. I want to get now to CNN military analyst Major General James "Spider" Marks.

General, it is good to have you here. Thank you so much for being here. You heard the Pentagon briefing earlier. What can you tell us about the targets of this attack and give us your takeaway here.

JAMES MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Thank you, Don. Let me walk you through what I heard both General Dunford and General Mattis described. Obviously it was guarded. They didn't give away all the secrets and all the planning considerations.

But what is important to realize is they stated very emphatically that they wanted to degrade, which is a military term for the reduction of capability, degrade Assad's capabilities to deliver chemical weapons. So that means stockpiles, commander control, intelligence collection, delivery means and much importantly research and development.

So, let me go to the map, if I can, Don. What we saw tonight was very strong targeting that has taken place in Damascus. And this is where the research and development capability is located. That essentially is target priority number one.

In addition, stockpiles of chemical weapons were struck in and around Damascus as well as Homs. And if you notice, Homs is the location outside of -- it is the location of the Shayrat air base which is where a year ago the United States struck against Assad.

Additionally, there are -- there are indications of attack up here in Aleppo. What is important about that is that in the vicinity of Aleppo is where we have U.S. forces. So, clearly there is proximity but there was absolutely no danger and sufficient off-set.

So this is what we know from tonight's initial wave of strikes. Whether there will be a re-strike, General Mattis indicated there wouldn't be, but we also heard from the president that there might be a sustained effort.

We'll have to see what that looks like. But (INAUDIBLE) between now and tomorrow begins a very robust process of battle damage assessment and affects base determination assessment, if you will, of what took place.

Let me also now show you where the allies are located. Obviously most of the strikes probably came from this -- this location here where both the French and the U.S. are located because of the proximity to targets within Syria and the closure time on those targets.

The U.S. has presence in Turkey. The Brits are in Cyprus. The U.S. always maintains presence in the Mediterranean. We also know now that the U.S. is transiting up through the Red Sea. It doesn't have to go through the Suez and join the forces here in (INAUDIBLE). That could get a little bit crowded but could stay in the Red Sea to go either north or could go south and get back into the Indian Ocean.

And we also have forces that are down here. This is where the strikes came from. I think what is important to realize here as well is that Russian forces in Syria are co-located in many locations where Syrian forces are. What we see here, this indicates -- this indicates that Russian forces are here.

It is also a location of where Syrian forces are. So you have -- you have strike packages that might be going into locations like this or in Damascus where you have proximity, you need to have standoff. We do not want to go to war with Russia. That is not the intention.

Escalation is not the objective. Deescalation on the other hand is but to take Assad's chemical weapons capability off the table in terms of how he can go forward with that as a weapon system. It needs to be degraded.

We know that it is not going to be defeated and eliminated completely, but we want to give him every opportunity to shell that capability and never touch it again based on the results of the strike this evening.

LEMON: If I can -- If I can just jump in here, general. Let's talk a little bit more about the equipment used. Again, we -- you mentioned the one U.S. Navy warship used, B-1 bombers used. And the reason I'm asking you that -- located in the Red Sea, as you indicated there.

[22:44:59] As you said, a little over double the weapons this year as last year. Talk to us about that.

MARKS: The key thing is -- if we go to this map here -- correct, let me stay on this map here. What happened last year is we attacked this location exclusively. Shayrat. One airfield. And we went after many pieces -- many aircraft which were in covered bunkers and protected and we went to nullify the use of the airfield by using munitions that would destroy the airfield.

What happened however is that immediately after you leave the strike, the Syrians come in and they can cover that back over and the airfields are back in use. We also achieved some bomb damage assessment and attrition against the air force.

This strike, however, includes not only this location, but increased location here in Damascus, which means there was very precise, as General Mattis indicated, some collateral damage assessment, a priority to minimize civilian casualties.

But let's be frank. They went after the R&D (ph) capability and they went after the C-2 (ph) capabilities that Assad has. They also went after intel in a big way because that is how they develop air packages and with the R&D (ph), that is how they develop all the additional capabilities.

In addition to that, strikes here in Homs and in the vicinity of Aleppo. Very large package in a very strong waves, now will determine what the United States wants to do with the possibility of a re-strike based on an assessment of these capabilities and these strikes this evening.

LEMON: General Marks, appreciate the information. I want you to stand by.

I want to bring in now CNN Military Analyst, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona and also Colonel Cedric Leighton. Good to have you both on.

CNN has learned that both ships and aircraft were used in this operation. How specifically would they have been used? Mr. Francona?

RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, the ships are launching the Tomahawk missiles and the B-1 bombers carry the air launch cruise missile. Similar capability, different warhead. But the effects are still the same. They can fire them from standoff distance and they are safe as can be. You don't want to get into the teeth of the Russian supply air defense system when you don't need to.

The cruise missiles could be engaged because they are nothing more than just another aircraft and unmanned, but they have the same flight characteristics. So they can be engaged by the Syrian air defense. The Syrians have claimed they shot some down, so we'll have to see how successful that is.

So what we're going to do now is do a battle damage assessment to find out how effective the strikes were, how the weapons performed, and then make another assessment, do we need to go back and re-strike the targets, have we achieved the required or desired level of damage to provide whatever it was we were trying to do.

And as General Mattis and General Dunford said, we are trying to deter the Syrians from doing this again. So we will know in short order how effective the strikes were.

LEMON: Colonel Leighton, the Syrian government has claimed that they have struck down or they hit a Tomahawk missile. Can you talk to me about that? They don't always tell the truth.

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That is right, Don. And I think it is highly unlikely. What they normally end up doing is they try to of course tell their population that they've been defending the motherland and they've done great heroic things against the U.S. aggressor.

In this particular case, I think it is highly unlikely that they were able to engage and take down a Tomahawk missile. It is technically possible for them to do so especially using the Russian S-400 system and to the associated weapons system with that.

However, highly unlikely that they did that because there are a lot of Russian controllers that are there and they may have been reluctant to allow the Syrians to engage the U.S. directly.

LEMON: So the president talked about France and Great Britain being a part of this operation. What -- what do they bring to the table?

LEIGHTON: Well France and Britain are -- some -- have some unique capabilities. The British are very good at -- in the intelligence realm. The French also have an intelligence capability that is actually from colonial times where they actually were in Syria after World War I.

But the big things that they bring to the table are basically support, they have some weapon systems such as the Rafale jets and Mirage jets that the French have. The British, in addition to their intelligence capability have the Tornado jets that they can use and they also have submarines that are out in the Mediterranean that have the capability to also watch Tomahawk missiles.

[22:49:59] LEMON: So, let me ask you, Colonel Francona, with elements of Russian military on the ground in Syria, how much more difficult does this make -- do they bring some technology or some equipment maybe to the table that Syrian wouldn't otherwise have access to?

FRANCONA: They bring tremendous capabilities that the Syrians don't have. If you look at the equipment the Syrians are using, most of it -- much it it goes back to the Soviet era days. The Russians are bringing of course state-of-the-art -- the S-400 system that Colonel Leighton just mentioned is a state-of-the-art world class air defense system.

It's optimized to fire -- shoot not only at aircraft but also at cruise missiles, specifically the Tomahawk. If you look at the target set that was struck tonight, most of those areas were not protected by this S-400. So, I don't think the Syrians would be very effective at knocking these things down.

I do want to say one more thing after General (INAUDIBLE) excellent run-down of where things were. I just want to talk to the target set in Damascus. You remember General Mattis and General Dunford said one of the things that they took into consideration was the minimization of civilian casualties. And then they talked about striking these Syrian scientific studies and research center. I lived in Damascus and I lived not too far from that area. This is right in the middle of a heavily, densely populated area.

And for us to put cruise missiles in that area indicates a high confidence in our ability to put those missiles right into that and not hit those surrounding civilian population. This is much different than what we did last year when we were striking relatively isolated airfields. It will be interesting to see if we are able to minimize civilian casualties in that area.

LEMON: General Marks, there was a bit of confusion, so to speak. Maybe they weren't on the same message, who knows. A confusion in language. The president saying it was a sustained attack. Secretary Mattis said earlier no additional attacks planned, that this was going to be a single attack unless Assad didn't get the message.

A one-time strike like this and saying it's a one-time strike, why telegraph because there's been so much criticism especially from this particular president about telegraphing to the enemy what we're going to do?

MARKS: Don, I think in this particular case, what is very, very interesting is the divergence between what the president said in terms of a sustained effort and what Secretary Mattis said in terms of this being the strike, really allows the United States and its allies the option to go back if this alliance, this partnership hasn't achieved the results that are necessary.

I can't speak for the president or any of these gentlemen, but what I can say is the president is saying this is sustained effort. We don't necessarily just have a quantifiable number of cruise missiles we're going to launch and when they're done, we're out. What this alliance is trying to achieve is effects on the ground.

The destruction or the degradation or the elimination, whatever the verb is that's trying to be achieved. And if this strike did not achieve that, the United States, the French, and the British reserve the right based on their constitutional rights to protect their best interest and they'll go back after these targets to achieve the results.

In fact, I think it was a wise decision on the part of Secretary Mattis to say, look, this is what we planned and this is what we executed but everybody made it perfectly clear, General Dunford, Secretary Mattis, that there will be an assessment process. There may be strikes that come in the next couple of days, we don't know. But we need to know what that assessment looks like.

LEMON: General Marks, Colonels Leighton and Rick Francona, stand by. This is our breaking news tonight, President Trump announcing the U.S., the U.K. and France have launched precision strikes on Syria tonight.

I want to bring in now CNN's Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, CNN Global Affairs Analyst, Kimberly Dozier, and Nicholas Kristof of the "The New York Times."

So grateful to have all of you on this evening.

Michelle, talk to me about the scope of this and the long-term effects, if any.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Right. We know that this was going to likely be bigger than what the U.S. did a year ago. How much bigger? That's the question.

We knew there were some competing factions within the White House and outside within the president's cabinet to try to figure out how much further to go without truly escalating the situation to the point it would be dangerous to U.S. interest.

So, to hear that there were three locations, I think, to many people, it's a surprise that there were so few. But when you see how they wanted to target this, to have it focused on chemical weapons capability. Remember last year's was just part of an airfield.

That was a launch capability for chemical weapons. Now we have one research and development facility and two other storage facilities, one of which included a command post.

[22:55:01] So they're really focusing on the chemical weapons themselves although when you look at research and development, that is only one of those locations. Although you heard officials tonight saying that could account for maybe years of research and data, they felt like it would damage the Syrian regime.

But there are other possible targets. They just didn't want to hit those at the risk of hitting either foreign forces or civilians. So long-term, you know, we heard what they said. This is obviously expanded from last year but still quite limited in scope. They chose that middle ground to walk a line between doing something more and not escalating it too much.

Well it have a huge effect or immediately if that's really going to be in the message sent. And I think that's what you heard U.S. officials focused on tonight, that this is sending a message that this isn't going to be targeted. This time it's not just the U.S. but its allies too.

And let's see what you do next because if there is continued attacks, and we don't know exactly what the red line is here this time, then there could be as the president said sustained response.

LEMON: Kimberly Dozier, to you now, we know that the U.S. was communicating with Russia to try to avoid any accident or escalation, but they say that it was -- they didn't pre-warn them. It seems like that was successful, correct?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: They were using the standard communication that they use with Russia every single day to deconflict coalition airstrikes with Russian air operations. General Mattis -- sorry, General Dunford was very careful to say they didn't coordinate, as in they didn't let them know what they were about to hit.

But consider this volley of strikes an opening salvo by a new coalition, the U.S., Britain and France. They have sent a message that we know where your weapons are being manufactured, we know where you're storing them, and we can ratchet this up if you try this again.

The last time they did this punishing strike back in April last year, there was a cessation of chemical weapons, reports of their use for at least a few months before it started again. The other thing that you have to look at is there are weapons inspectors on the ground right now that the U.N. had said we're going to go in and investigate that site.

Will this strike tonight empower them or will Assad now say, well, I was working with the international community, but why should I let them inspect the site when you already punished me, you already were judge, jury, and executioner?

LEMON: Kimberley, CNN has been told that from a senior U.S. official that John Bolton, Nikki Haley, both supportive of a stronger campaign of strikes that Trump has been pushing for. It is the Pentagon and General Mattis who are holding out. How did this play out? How did they come to some sort of consensus to launch these air strikes?

DOZIER: I think from General Mattis's point of view -- Secretary Mattis, he knows that these things can produce a lot of blow back. He's already warned there's going to be a disinformation campaign that starts probably as soon as the sun comes up, which is very shortly in Syria, where they'll say likely that there were civilian casualties hit or perhaps that some of the chemicals spread and caused damage.

Who knows what sort of stories we're about to hear. Mattis also knows that there is at this point no long-term strategy for Syria moving forward. That is still very much from the Trump administration's point of view, influx.

LEMON: Yes.

DOZIER: So you can find yourself getting pulled into something with a military campaign that isn't thought out with an end game. Where does this go? It seems very reactionary. It reacted to Assad's continuing WMD use, and now they have to see what Assad is going to do next.

LEMON: Nicholas Kristof, we know that the president, he didn't like the options that were presented to him. He wanted a stronger and quicker action, quicker than this. Did he get what he wanted, the president?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It sounds like he did not. It sounds like he made a speech that reflected his larger ambitions when he talked about that sustained attack. But in fact, what seems to have unfolded so far as you're going with what Secretary Mattis described was more limited.

And I think that reflects the fact that when you're in the White House situation room, it's very easy to plan massive campaigns. If you are in the Pentagon, you remember that in 1999, when we were bombing Belgrade and the Kosovo operation, it was hard to imagine what might go wrong.

[23:00:04] And then we hit the Chinese Embassy and all of a sudden, we had a crisis with China on our hands. So all kinds of things go wrong.