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Allies Target Suspected Chemical Weapons Facilities; U.S. and Russia Trade Recriminations at U.N.; Survivors of Suspected Chemical Attack Speak; Syrian Community Reacts; Pentagon States Strikes Successfully Hit Every Target; Inside Factory Where Tomahawk Missiles are Made. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired April 15, 2018 - 01:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, we continue our coverage of the strike on Syria here on CNN. I'm Cyril Vanier.

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Bianca Nobilo. U.S. president Donald Trump is declaring "mission accomplished" in Syria. This after the U.S., France and U.K. launched their operation against Syria's chemical weapons program early Saturday.

The strikes included aircraft and missiles and followed a suspected chemical attack in Douma last week. The U.S. says more than 100 missiles were fired and all hit their targets.

VANIER: Syria and its ally, Russia ,deny that, however. They claim that most of the missiles were intercepted and the attack was actually repelled. But videos on the ground say otherwise. They show significant damage and this here is said to have been a research center in Damascus.

U.S. Defense secretary Jim Mattis says the airstrikes were a, quote, "one-time shot."

NOBILO: But Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., made it clear there could be more. Barbara Starr reports from the Pentagon.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A message from Donald Trump to Bashar al-Assad and his Russian masters, firing more than 100 missiles into the heart of Syria's chemical weapons program.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: I spoke to the president this morning and he said, if the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded.

STARR (voice-over): Defense Secretary James Mattis in a late-night Pentagon briefing not shutting the door to future military action but also not saying what would lead to more airstrikes. GEN. JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Right now, this is a one-time shot and I believe that it sent a very strong message to dissuade him, to deter him from doing this again.

STARR (voice-over): It was shortly after these horrific videos emerged of an April 7th chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb that the Pentagon began planning for military strikes.

The target list: a chemical research center in Damascus and two chemical weapons and equipment storage facilities located west of Homs. After first light, as the damage emerged, the Pentagon said there were no reports of civilian casualties and all the military objectives for this strike were achieved.

LT. GEN. KENNETH MCKENZIE, U.S. JOINT STAFF DIRECTOR: I believe that we took the heart of it out with the attacks that we accomplished last night. I'm not going to say that they're going to be unable to continue to conduct a chemical attack in the future.

I suspect, however, they'll think long and hard about it after based on the activities of last night.

STARR (voice-over): The strike on Syria began at 4:00 am with a barrage of 105 missiles, launched by the U.S., French and British militaries. It was carried out by three U.S. warships and a U.S. submarine.

The French also launched missiles from a frigate ship. In the air, two B-1 bombers launched strikes along with French and British fighter jets. One site, the Barzeh chemical research and development facility is located in Damascus. Missiles made it past heavy air defenses without being shot down.

MCKENZIE: Because you can see, it does not exist anymore. And we believe they've lost a lot of equipment. They've lost a lot of material. And it's going to have a significant effect on them. So I think the words "cripple" and "degrade" are good, accurate words.

STARR (voice-over): But as Bashar al-Assad calmly walked into work today, it's unclear if he is hearing those words.

STARR: Behind the scenes, the Pentagon had been concerned about a possible reaction from the Russians, who have forces, of course, inside Syria, worried about escalation of the crisis. But the day after, so far, they see no real reaction from Moscow except for a lot of angry language -- Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


VANIER: Let's get more on all of this with our reporters across the world covering this story.

NOBILO: Let's begin in Syria and get a viewer from the ground.

VANIER: Nick Paton Walsh reports from Northern Syria.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: Twenty-four hours in and I think Syrian regime areas are more or less dusting themselves off, thinking it could have been an awful lot worse.

We have heard from Syrian state TV, pictures of the damage done to the Barzeh research facility near Damascus, rubble there. But they do claim much of the damage claimed by the United States to the Homs facilities struck didn't actually happen. That's prevented by Syrian air defense, although it's pretty clear on satellite pictures contradicting that particular contention.

But Bashar al-Assad was clear to try and appear confident, posting a picture of him sauntering into work over nice, clear marble floors --


WALSH: -- yesterday morning, as I speak now.

And the question is, what message is being taken away by the Syrian regime here?

We're seeing people on the streets, honking their horns, suggesting maybe some elements of victory from the lack of extraordinary damage done here. This was the lesser option presented to the White House in terms of a response.

But there clearly is a red line around the use of chemical weapons, a metric-like mission accomplished, Nikki Haley saying that they are, quote, "locked and loaded" to do this again, raises the question, in the case of what event?

We heard from senior U.S. officials who believe that sarin and chlorine was used in the Douma attacks but that doesn't appear to be from extensive testing of samples, though we do believe some samples have been tested at some point.

It appears to be a diagnosis from watching people in the videos of those who were dying and suffering from the attack, the muscular twitches which you get from sarin but not from chlorine.

So the question now is, with the U.S. saying that the regime used chemical weapons 50 times during the war, does it now mean that a red line is the use of chlorine?

That's quite common. So anytime a noxious gas is smelt on the battlefield, is there the potential cruise missiles will be flying?

Or is it just use of sarin, as in the case of 2013, when Barack Obama's red line and the 59 Tomahawks launched last year in April after the gas attack at Khan Shaykhun using sarin?

That is the broad question moving forward. It's clear there no U.S. longer plan for the Syrian civil war here. That will continue with the slaughter of those against the regime with conventional weapons on a daily basis. The real issue now is what is the chemical weapons red line?

What has to be done to elicit this kind of response again? -- Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Northern Syria.


NOBILO: Let's bring in CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson. He's following the story from Moscow.

Nic, thanks for joining us. We've heard some confusing rhetoric from the U.S. Mattis said that this was a "one-time shot."

But then we've had the U.S. ambassador, Nikki Haley, underscoring that they're prepared to undertake further military action if there's another use of chemical weapons.

Do you think if not a strategy coming out of the U.S. that there at least is a more decisive approach forming toward these red lines?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think that what the United States wants to do and its allies want to do is reaffirm to Syria, to Russia, to Iran that there are things they cannot do with impunity in Syria and that use of chemical weapons is one of those.

And for Russia the message is perhaps a broader one on the use of chemical weapons, that there is a consideration internationally now that Russia is a bit too free and easy turning a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons, given the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal, his daughter, in Salisbury recently.

So I think there is a multilayered purpose to this and that's certainly the narrative that emerges at the United Nations, that this cannot be tolerated, this use of chemical weapons, that everyone agreed was laid to rest after the First World War, the horrors of the countries there and the gassings there.

So that does seem to be something that's now established. As Nick raises the question, what is the threshold, what is the bar for future strikes based on the use of chemical weapons?

But I think the more fundamental question now -- and that's the one that we began to get an airing at the U.N. Security Council yesterday, we heard it also from General Mattis, two nights ago; we've heard it as well yesterday from the Pentagon briefing, which is to move the process in Syria forward to something more constructive.

That more constructive thing is the U.N. peace talks in Geneva under U.N. Security Council resolution 2254.

Where is the impetus?

Where is this leverage to achieve that?

What has changed on that? I think it's quite simple to argue at the moment on that front; no leverage, no message has emerged that could coherently actually move the situation in that direction.

NOBILO: Speaking of leverage, I was reading an article written by our colleague, Fred Pleitgen, about how Assad seems relatively unfazed by this. And in terms of repercussions to this strike, do you think there will be those that might not be immediately apparent to us now?

But it looks very unlikely that there will be any escalation with Russia or other regional powers at this point.

ROBERTSON: It doesn't appear to be so. This seems to have been a narrowly defined counter measure to Syria's use of chemical weapons; the intention as stated was to stop the use of chemical weapons in the future. There is obviously a desire to make sure that that can be more rigidly enforced and there's inspection controls inside Syria to achieve that.

But how does it change President Bashar al-Assad's view of the world --


ROBERTSON: -- around him?

For him strategically, it makes it perhaps slightly harder in his mind to continue mopping-up activities in the countries, these areas that we've heard defined as areas of cessation of hostilities, merely turn out now when we look at that narrative through, you know, sort of through the rearview mirror, if you will, this agreement, these agreements that were found maybe about a year ago to stop hostilities in certain areas that he's limited cessation of hostilities turn out to be really just an exercise in parking the conflict in one area, mopping up in another area, moving those forces and then using those forces to mop up in another area.

So strategically for Assad, it perhaps slows down what he wants to achieve in the whole country in terms of taking of control. Douma in Eastern Ghouta was strategically significant for Assad to take control of in Damascus because of their proximity to the highway that runs to the north, that links Damascus to the rest of the country and in particular the coast that is important to him.

But I think for him right now, he's been able to look at very clearly, narrowly defined objective and say, OK, maybe that is removed, that military piece from the table for me. But I can continue to do with other resources and assets to do what it is that I intend to do.

NOBILO: Nic, thank you so much for your reporting from Moscow. Appreciate it.

VANIER: Col. Cedric Leighton is with us, a retired Air Force colonel and CNN military analyst.

Colonel, the president says "mission accomplished." From a military perspective, do you agree with that?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think in a tactical sense, Cyril, you might be able to say this, that this one operation, this one particular instance was accomplished, the mission was accomplished.

But when you look at the broader picture, when you look at Syria as a whole, there is no way to say we're done with any operations in that area. Operations in that area continue, not only because of ISIS but frankly because of Assad. And that is the one thing I think in Washington they want to avoid is dealing with Assad or at least dealing with him in a forceful manner.

VANIER: But even from the narrow point of view of just the use of chemical weapons, after these strikes, can Syria still use any chemical weapons?

LEIGHTON: No. Well, let's put it this way: they can try it. The way I'd see it is that they can probably get away with minor uses of chemical weapons. But I think they would do so at their peril.

But if they do something like they did in Douma, where they combine what appears to have been chlorine with what probably is sarin, as a nerve agent, or some other nerve agent that actually similarly to sarin, that would be a red line. That hasn't been explicitly mentioned coming out of the White House or out of the Pentagon.

But I think that is it. I think that's the red line if they use something like sarin, that will be the danger point and Syria will have a really heavy price to pay if they do that.

VANIER: Currently the U.S. intelligence says that it believes there are still chemical weapons left in Syria.

So does that square with the assessment, "mission accomplished"?

LEIGHTON: Well, the battle damage assessment, which is the official term for actually seeing whether or not you hit targets that you were intending to hit, that really still has to be done in a very thorough manner.

What we heard on Saturday morning in Washington was a summary of the very preliminary battle damage assessments that were going to be done. Chemical weapons, Syria is definitely going to maintain some chemical weapons; this strike definitely did not take out all of those. It would have been impossible for them to do so. The only way to completely take out chemical weapons and to be sure of it is to find every single chemical installation in Syria and physically go there on the ground and take possession of the chemical weapons.

And that obviously is not what happened.

VANIER: The U.S. didn't want to go, didn't want to trigger a war with Russian or Iran.

That said, do you think there could be any kind of retaliation against the U.S. and/or against the U.K. and France?

LEIGHTON: I think it's possible. I don't think it will be nation state on nation state. But one thing that I think unfortunately would be a very high probability is for either Russia or Iran to use a proxy.

And that proxy, one of the possibilities would be to use Hezbollah as a means to actually take out certain installations using a terrorist attack.

So U.S. installations, U.S. personnel have to be very cautious not only in the Middle East but in Europe. And in other parts of the world that something like that could possibly occur. And of course, if it does, that would present a major escalation, especially if the event is traced back --


LEIGHTON: -- to not only Hezbollah but Iran and by extension to Russia.

VANIER: The U.S. says it's ready for a sustained effort in Syria. That's what Mr. Trump said but he also said in the same speech that he doesn't want to stay in Syria indefinitely.

Is it possible to have it both ways?

LEIGHTON: It's very difficult to have it both ways but I think what we're dealing with here is a sustained effort that has some time limit. That time limit may not be telegraphed to adversaries and potential adversaries.

But there is a way in which U.S. forces could be employed in a very sustained fashion with direct action type attacks, occurring both from Special Forces units as well as from the air. And those types of attacks could conceivably be the types that he's thinking of. And if that is the case it stands to reason that there would be some time limit to that. And that's, I think, what he's trying to do. But it's very difficult to do that in practice.

VANIER: OK, Col. Cedric Leighton, thank you for joining us tonight.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Cyril. It's always a pleasure.

NOBILO: A boast by the U.S. president sparks a backlash.

Is it too early for Donald Trump to claim "mission accomplished"?

We'll take a look.



(MUSIC PLAYING) VANIER: I want to show you the aftermath of Saturday's airstrike.

This is it. Buildings destroyed and smoke still rising. This was on Saturday and what you're looking at was reportedly --


VANIER: -- part of a research center in Damascus. Now the U.S. says the strikes launched with France and the U.K. on Saturday were a success. They targeted Syria's chemical weapons program after that suspected chemical attack last week.

NOBILO: The U.S. says more than 100 missiles were launched against at least three targets. They included a research facility in Damascus and two storage sites near Homs. Syria says most of the missiles were intercepted. But the U.S. says all of them hit their targets.

VANIER: The leaders of Turkey and Russia spoke on Saturday in the wake of those airstrikes but they had two different reactions to it. That is according to state media in both countries.

NOBILO: Russian president Vladimir Putin called the airstrikes, quote, "an act of aggression against a sovereign state."

He added, the strikes were against the United Nations' charter.

A different take from Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In a televised speech, he said not responding to the chemical weapons attack would be unthinkable. The two leaders have agreed to work closer to find a political solution to the violence in Syria.

Meanwhile, there were bitter exchanges at the U.N. Security Council Saturday. The U.S. and Russia traded recriminations over the allied airstrikes in Syria.

VANIER: Our senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth was there and he sent us this report.


RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: The Western military strike on Syria failed to resolve considerable differences here at the U.N. Security Council table. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said her country remains "locked and loaded," should there be another poison gas attack on the people of Syria.

Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, said Washington was guilty of "hooliganism." Russia, China and Bolivia said United States was violating the international charter. Russia proposed a resolution to the Security Council, which would have condemned what it called U.S. aggression on Syria and a violation of the charter.

However, Moscow was unable to obtain the needed nine votes to get this resolution through and it wouldn't have passed, anyway, because the U.S., U.K. and France, those that attacked Syria, would have vetoed it. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez pleaded with the major powers

on the Council to come together and finally work out a political solution to the problems of Syria. France and the U.K. insisted the strike was aboveboard and did not violate the international charter.

Many members of the Security Council remain furious that a chemical weapons attack occurred yet again on the people of Syria and the differences here among Russia and the United States are not going away.

In fact, there's another Council meeting on Wednesday, when the Salisbury, England, chemical weapons attack on a former spy and his daughter, once again, the subject of a debate here -- Richard Roth, CNN, United Nations.


NOBILO: U.S. president Donald Trump congratulated the allies who participated in the airstrike on Syria.

VANIER: Mr. Trump wrote that they could not have had a better result. Then he added this in his tweet, "Mission accomplished." Critics, even in fact some within his own party, cringed, because as a senior administration official conceded, the airstrikes may not have neutralized the chemical weapons threat in Syria.

NOBILO: For many, it was a flashback to 2003, when then President George W. Bush declared victory in front of a giant "mission accomplished" banner. The Iraq War, as you'll recall, lasted somewhat longer.

So let's get some perspective on the political aftermath of the strike in Syria. We're joined by political analyst Michael Genovese, author of "How Trump Governs" and president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University.

Thanks for being with us. And my first question is about this phrase, "mission accomplished." So in this instance, I'd like your thoughts on what the mission is because Donald Trump initially made it sound the mission was just to degrade the chemical weapons facilities, deter their future use.

But then in his remarks yesterday, he did allude to the U.S. perhaps playing a bigger role in the process in the Middle East.

MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Bianca, that confusion is a function of a confused policy. On the one hand, the president speaks of America first, which was his line last week. I want to get out as soon as I can.

And then, now, he's saying, we have a bigger role to play, we're going to do something big. It's a global leadership role. And so the America first and global leadership role are in conflict and we haven't resolved that yet.

But, as you know, Bianca, because it's your profession, words matter. And the president's choice of words, instead of helping the situation, confused it and also undermined his goal.

Instead of thinking about victory or about something accomplished that is good, we think of exactly what you had in the previous excerpt; we had George W. Bush "mission accomplished," the Iraq War failure. It went on for years and year. And so the president stepped on his own message --


GENOVESE: -- when he said "mission accomplished." It was a very poor and unfortunate choice of words.

VANIER: Michael, does the Trump administration have a strategy?

Have a policy for Syria?

GENOVESE: Well, in one word, Cyril, no.

The president's confusion on the ground is a function of his confusion over policy.

What do you really want to do?

In the campaign he talked about pulling back, about letting others take over, about America taking care of itself and America first. But we have a tradition of global leadership, of being responsible, of being the kind of caretaker, some say police man of the world.

OK. That's an exaggerated role. But those two roles and those two possibilities are very much in conflict and I think it's a conflict inside the president's head that he hasn't yet resolved.

NOBILO: Michael, that conflict is particular interesting because it's also the pragmatic political conflict that the president really faces because as far as I understand it and I'm just speaking to get your thoughts on this, his base are more inclined toward the America first idea of conducting global affairs.

And his then classic opponents, those on the other side, would be those that might favor more global interventionism. So that conflict plays out in the political forum for him, too, and who he's trying to appeal to.

GENOVESE: It does. And the irony here is that anytime the United States is threatened or attacked or the United States goes on the offense, there's a rally 'round the flag effect, that people generally want to go behind the president, get behind the American cause and get behind the president, whether it's a Democrat or Republican.

And so when you have a situation like this, it really is ready-made for the president to gain support and to gain widespread support, even from those who tend not to be in his camp or in his base.

And that is why, in cases like this, the president's stepped on his own feet and instead of doing something that rhetorically they said, we're in this together, we have a common mission, we're going to get this done, it was conjuring images of George W. Bush and the failed policy that led to great divisiveness in the United States, a policy that the president himself has been railing against since the campaign started.

NOBILO: Michael Genovese, thank you for being with us and highlighting those differences between the political reality and the political PR.

GENOVESE: Thank you.

VANIER: When we come back, on CNN, a world exclusive. We speak with survivors of the latest suspected chemical attack in Syria. The smell in their clothes and belongings reminds them of the attack that almost killed them. We'll tell you about that.






VANIER (voice-over): And those are some of the missile launches from Saturday's strikes on Syria. The U.S. says 105 missiles were fired from naval and air platforms in the Red Sea, the Northern Arabian Gulf and from the Mediterranean.

NOBILO: The U.S. says those strikes were a success. At least three sites were targeted and they include a research facility in Damascus and storage facilities near Homs.

VANIER: The U.S. says more than 100 missiles were fired, all of them hit their targets. But Syria and its ally, Russia, deny that. They say most of those missiles were actually intercepted and that the attack was repelled.

Now in a world exclusive, CNN is the first network to speak with survivors of that suspected chemical attack in Douma.

NOBILO: Many of them live now in makeshift camps and their lives are in limbo. CNN's senior international correspondent Arwa Damon spoke with them just hours after the U.S.-led airstrikes.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And there's definitely something that stinks...

DAMON (voice-over): These backpacks belong to Malas (ph) and Betha (ph), 7-year-old twins from Douma.

They're a little shy and hesitant. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language).

DAMON (voice-over): Their mother, Imoor (ph), tells us they remember everything vividly.

They were hiding in a basement when the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma took place. They could barely breathe. She felt her body go limp. She clawed her way up, dragging her daughters but then the other strikes began.

"We were between two deaths," she remembers, "either from chemical strikes or the others on the rooftop."

DAMON: The smell is still quite strong because I think that they weren't able to wash yet.

Look, that's the toy that her daughter hid away to try to keep her safe and she would tell the toy, you know, you might -- you might suffocate but at least you'll be safe from the bombing. That is how -- that's how the kids' minds work.

Yesterday, they were digging a tunnel for the ants so that the ants wouldn't suffocate, just in case something happened.

DAMON (voice-over): In another tent, we meet a boy with a jagged scar running across his abdomen from shrapnel. His uncle, who doesn't want to be identified, was among the worst affected in the family in the chemical strike.

He says a blood sample was taken the day before. This new camp is inhabited with those who survived the siege of Douma. Its relentless, months-long bombing that drove families underground so that something as simple as feeling the sun on their skin was a luxury.

Reeve (ph) and her family thought there was a lull in the bombing and went outside, when she says three airstrikes slammed right next to them. The next thing she remembers is being in the hospital.

DAMON: She had just gotten out of surgery in the hospital when the wounded from the chemical strike, she says, began coming in.

DAMON (voice-over): The scene was so horrific, she says she forgot her own pain. What she doesn't know, what no one has the heart to tell her is that her husband is dead. Her son, just 2 years old, is too young to remember his father.

The limited U.S.-French-U.K. strikes may have sent a message to the Syrian regime about chemical weapons but not about the rest of its arsenal.


DAMON (voice-over): For those who have endured the unimaginable, it's little more than a move on a gruesome chess board.

Sixty-eight-year-old Fegzi (ph) arrived here four days ago from Douma. She has buried too many relatives to count, including her son and two grandchildren.

DAMON: There is nothing left for them, I mean, even if they could go home, there's nothing left.

DAMON (voice-over): She says her country has caused her too much pain. And remembering the long lost days when her family was around her, when they were all alive, when feeling safe wasn't a luxury, it's all just too much -- Arwa Damon, CNN, Elbeyli (ph) Refugee Camp, Syria.


NOBILO: Let's speak now with an activist who has worked closely with the Syrian community.

VANIER: Yisser Bittar is the director of development at the Karam Foundation. She's currently in Phoenix, Arizona.

Yisser, can we first get your thoughts on that report that you just heard and the refugees, who are still processing what happened in Douma?

YISSER BITTAR, KARAM FOUNDATION: I mean, my heart is honestly pounding. And my hands are sweating. This is the reality of the Syrian people for the past seven years. This is one story of hundreds of thousands of stories that we might hear and we might not hear. And it's tough. It's very tough to hear.

And we only wonder how much longer we'll be hearing these stories coming out of Syria.

NOBILO: Yisser, I'm curious to know, we're often talking about how the conflict could possibly come to an end.

And among Syrians, what is discussed as the likeliest solution to that?

BITTAR: Ultimately, all Syrians just want an end to the war. And of course this means a political solution. Unfortunately, the reality is that the Assad regime and their allies have no interest in peace. They are not interested in peace. And they see no reason to end the war.

They are winning on the ground. And so ultimately a political solution is the only way for the war to end. But in addition to that, there has to be justice and accountability. There has to be -- the Syrian people must feel that those that were perpetrating these war crimes for the past seven years are held accountable.

And that is the only way that a peaceful and stable Syria could ever prosper once again.

VANIER: You work with the Syrian community.

What is their reaction to the events of the last 24 hours, the strikes on Syria? BITTAR: The strikes in general were welcomed, as they are necessary, because for the past seven years, the international community has more or less stood by as the Assad regime continued the use of all types of weapons against the Syrian people.

And so essentially this is a reminder for the Assad regime to at least think twice before chemical weapons are used.

But then at the same time, the Syrian community is wondering what's next, does that mean that this is a green light for the use of the conventional weapons that we continue to see?

Which has been causing the majority of the destruction and the deaths inside Syria. So we're looking for a broader strategy to end the war and to establish a political solution for the Syrian people.

NOBILO: Yisser, you touched on that. I was going to ask you how Syrians reconcile that.

Is there a sense of abandonment because conventional weapons which has caused many hundreds of thousands of deaths in the Syrian civil war have not been challenged in the same way?

And then when the international community deems it necessary to firmly establish a red line on chemical weapons because perhaps it's in their own national interest, too, how do Syrians feel about that?

BITTAR: Definitely. The Syrian people have -- feel forsaken. For the past seven years, all types of weapons are used. Starvation as a weapon of war, napalm, phosphorus, gun missiles, barrel bombs. And these are, as I mentioned, they cause the majority of the deaths in Syria.

And so what we saw essential was when President Obama lifted the red line on chemical weapons, it gave the Assad regime a green light to continue using all types of weapons in its arsenal and to allow its allies as well, the Russian regime and the Iranians to continue to use all types of weapons inside Syria.

So, of course, it's a red light, it's a red line for the chemical weapons. But what about the weapons that are causing the majority of the deaths?

It's very difficult for Syrians to understand and comprehend, honestly.

VANIER: Yisser Bittar, joining us from Arizona today, thank you very much for joining us on the show. Appreciate it.

BITTAR: Thank you.

VANIER: The Syrian regime is defiant, declaring victory in the last area near Damascus that had been held by rebels. The Syrian military says it has now cleared all insurgents from Eastern Ghouta and that includes this city of Douma on the map, which is where the suspected chemical attack took place last week. NOBILO: The Syrian regime labeled rebels as terrorists and in a statement a top Syrian military official says, quote, "Units of our valiant --


NOBILO: -- "armed forces, along with its allies, completely the cleansing of Eastern Ghouta in all its towns and villages after all the terrorists left Douma city."

Coming up, our continued coverage of U.S., French and British strikes on Syria. What the attacks might mean for U.S. policy on Syria broadly -- ahead.





VANIER (voice-over): You're looking at damage from the strikes on Syria early on Saturday. This used to be buildings, reportedly part of a scientific research lab in the Barzeh district of the capital, Damascus.


NOBILO: The joint strikes in Syria are having an impact at the U.N. Syria's ally, Russia, accuses the operation of undermining global peace and security. It tried to push through a resolution condemning it at the Security Council. But it failed to pass.

the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, says the U.S. is, quote, "locked and loaded" to hit Syria again if there are more chemical attacks.

VANIER: CNN has also learned of a French-led resolution on chemical weapons investigations. This is backed by the U.S. and the U.K. and it would set a new timetable for investigators to report to the U.N.

Let's stop and consider the bigger picture here, how these strikes --


VANIER: -- fit into the U.S. strategy for Syria.

NOBILO: Fareed Zakaria, host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS," here on CNN, talked about this with Anderson Cooper earlier.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Fareed, the president is saying "mission accomplished;" it's a phrase we've all become used to, of course, for better or worse. Is he right?

Was the mission accomplished?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Well, the mission by the administration was defined narrowly. They actually were very careful about it. The president was careful about it. It's about chemical weapons and it's about making Assad pay a price for the use of chemical weapons.

And in that sense, the mission is accomplished, the message was sent, the punishment was inflicted, if you will.

But the mission was not accomplished in a larger sense, which is the Syrian civil war continues. It continues to spiral out of control and, more importantly, Assad continues to win. Assad is more firmly in control and in power than he was two years ago, than he was four years ago. So, in that sense, it's a more complicated story.

COOPER: Yes, if you're Bashar al-Assad, I'm wondering if you're relieved today. It seems like this could very well be the extent of the strikes, at least for the time being if chemical weapons aren't continued to be used.

ZAKARIA: I think you're right, that if you're Assad or if you're the Russians, there must have been some level of relief, particularly given Trump's rhetoric, the tweets, the mercurial character, nature of Donald Trump.

The strike was actually remarkably restrained, in some ways even more restrained than the first one last January. It did not target Russians; it was not in any way targeting the regime. It didn't have the element of trying to cripple the regime or even in some way, you know, induce the beginnings of regime change.

No. It was very, very tight and very focused and very limited. And I think that the way Assad looks at it is probably exactly, this is over. Now, we're on and I'm still running Syria, by the way.

COOPER: I just want to play what the President had to say about Russia's involvement in Syria last night. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To Iran and to Russia I ask, what kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?

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.


COOPER: He also criticized Russia directly for, he said, not living up to a promise they made in 2013 when they got involved in Syria about eliminating chemical weapons.

Were you surprised to hear him, you know, have words directly to Russia?

ZAKARIA: I was very pleasantly surprised. I thought he did it very well. It was the right moral tone to strike. I think it's somewhat naive to believe that, you know, you are going to shame Vladimir Putin into, you know, better behavior internationally. That isn't, you know, Putin does.

But I think it's important for the President of the United States to speak out for these -- on these kind of issues and speak out for these values. And yes, it was nice to hear Trump doing it, particularly with a country and a president who he has been reluctant to criticize for a long time.


NOBILO: We're going to take a quick break now. When we come back, we assess the damage on the ground in Syria and take a look at some of the American missiles that caused it.





VANIER: Welcome back.

The U.S. says the air and missile strikes launched with France and the U.K. on Saturday were a success. They targeted Syria's chemical weapons program after a suspected chemical attack last week.

NOBILO: The U.S. says more than 100 missiles were launched against at least three targets. They included a research facility in Damascus and two storage sites near Homs.

Syria says most of the missiles were intercepted but the U.S. says all of them hit their targets.

The Tomahawk cruise missile has been the U.S. military's go-to weapon in airstrikes just like this one. CNN's Gary Tuchman got a rare look inside the factory where they're made. And here's what he found.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Tomahawk is considered the world's most advanced cruise missile. It's been used in combat more than 2,000 times by the U.S. Navy from Syria to Sudan to Serbia. And all the new Tomahawks come out of one factory, this one in a city and state we've been asked not to reveal for security reasons.

The 20-foot-long Tomahawks are manufactured by The Raytheon Company. Kim Ernzen is one of Raytheon's top missile executives. KIM ERNZEN, V.P., RAYTHEON: This is the final configuration before it goes out the door to our customer. In this facility is where we do the integration of the rocket motors and the warheads, what we call the energetics elements of the missiles.

Other components and set assemblies come from our other factories, located here. And then we do the finally assembly here, test it, fuel it and get it ready to go out the door.

TUCHMAN: How soon will these be going out the door?

ERNZEN: In the next couple of days.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): In this factory, 14 Tomahawks are about to be shipped out. Workers here are performing what they call a roll test to make sure there is nothing loose inside the missile and that everything is connected properly.

Historically, Raytheon's contract with the Navy is for at least 196 missiles each year.

ERNZEN: Tomahawks can fly 1,000-plus miles. So it can get launched from a ship or a submarine. It can go up and loiter, as we call it, where it can fly around in a figure 8.

TUCHMAN: So in other words, once it's sent off, if you want to change where it's going --


TUCHMAN: -- just goes in a circle -

ERNZEN: It can be redirected and rerouted to a specific target.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The Tomahawk has been around since the 1980s. But this is the newest version of the missile, manufactured since 2004. It can be used for up to 30 years and Tomahawks that haven't been used come back after 15 years for recertification and upgrades.

ERNZEN: So this is the rocket motor that launches it out of the vertical live system. So it is what propels it out. So when you see the footage of a missile coming out of a ship, it is the plume that gets it out of that vertical launch.

As you move more up toward the front is the navigation --


ERNZEN: -- communications system and then ultimately up here at the very end is the warhead. And it is a 1,000-pound warhead.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): With their GPS guidance, the Tomahawks can strike within mere feet of a target. They're launched from ships or submarines.

ERNZEN: It comes from a submarine, it will then swim through the water. The rocket motor will take it up out of the water and then will eventually get it up into the airplane mode, which is where it will fly and perform its mission from there.

TUCHMAN: So it swims and it flies?

ERNZEN: It swims and it flies.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The price tag per missile, about $1.1 million. Each Tomahawk weighs about 3,500 pounds. So when 66 of them are fired toward Syria, that was about 231,000 pounds of firepower.

People who work here tell us this isn't just a job.

ERNZEN: It is an honor to be able to work for the men and women in uniform and to be able to supply them with a competitive advantage when they're put in harm's way. And that's what we do. We make sure that they have an unfair advantage out in theater.

TUCHMAN: So that's what you say, that this gives the U.S. military an unfair advantage?

ERNZEN: Absolutely. And we want to keep it that way.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Gary Tuchman, CNN.


VANIER: OK, stay with us, everyone. We'll have more of our continuing coverage of the strike on Syria.

NOBILO: The news continues, including live reports from 10 Downing Street in London and the Champs-Elysees in Paris -- right after this break.