The US-led attack on alleged Syrian chemical weapons facilities raised a question around the world: What next?
After the airstrikes late last week, mixed messages from the administration have meant it’s not entirely clear, particularly how the White House will react to any further chemical weapons attacks, and when and how the US will exit Syria, where it currently has about 2,000 troops.
Washington, along with London and Paris, launched the airstrikes in the wee hours of Syria’s Saturday morning in response for an April 7 attack on the rebel stronghold of Douma that killed about 75 people, including children, and left another 500 in need of treatment for symptoms consistent with chemical weapons exposure.
The strikes came not long after President Donald Trump signaled he wanted to end US involvement in Syria. But when he announced the military action to punish the suspected use of sarin gas and chlorine on Friday night, Trump said the US would be undertaking a sustained response to stop the use of chemical weapons. US officials stressed after the attack that the White House strategy had never changed.
“The US mission has not changed: The President has been clear that he wants US forces to come home as quickly as possible,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said. “We are determined to completely crush ISIS and create the conditions that will prevent its return. In addition we expect our regional allies and partners to take greater responsibility both militarily and financially for securing the region.”
French President Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed Trump’s shift when he told French media on Sunday that “10 days ago, President Trump said the USA’s will is to disengage from Syria. We convinced him that it was necessary to stay.”
Macron was reacting to comments Trump had made about Syria on April 3, when he said, “I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. It’s time.”
“Established US policy”
Questions about Trump’s mixed messages led the US to insist the parameters for US involvement in Syria haven’t changed and that the country remains focused on defeating the terrorist group ISIS.
Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, reaffirmed that the “strikes do not signal a departure from established US policy.”
“That we struck targets which enable the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons program is separate and distinct” from the mission to defeat ISIS, Pahon said.
But the President’s seeming shift raised questions about what exactly the US will do in future, particularly about any gas attacks that might use chlorine, a common household chemical that has been deployed repeatedly in Syria, officials say.
“We have a large volume of clear and compelling information, both of chemical weapons use and of Assad’s culpability in this attack,” a senior administration official told reporters April 14. “The information we have points to the use of both chlorine and sarin, both of which are chemical weapons, as used in this attack and beyond.”