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U.S. And Allies Launch Airstrikes On Syria


The attack on Syrian bases last night by the U.S., France and Britain had two objectives - one military, one political - first to damage Syria's chemical weapons capacity, second to convince Bashar al-Assad's regime not to use those weapons again. There is no independent confirmation Syria used chemical weapons in an attack last week on its citizens. But U.S., French and British officials say they are convinced chlorine and perhaps even sarin gas was used. Here's Defense Secretary Mattis speaking late last night at the Pentagon.


JAMES MATTIS: 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.

SIMON: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

SIMON: What do we know? What happened overnight?

BOWMAN: Well, first of all, President Trump made the announcement at the White House around 9 o'clock last night that would have been just before dawn in Damascus. And he said the U.S. was joined by France and Great Britain in this mission. There were few details, Scott. We'll get more at the Pentagon this morning. What we do know is there were cruise missiles launched from both ships and aircraft. American B-1 bombers took part in this operation. And they say they fired about twice the number of missiles that were fired last year at that Syrian airfield when the 58, 59 were fired - about twice as many.

The targets were all part of the chemical weapons infrastructure. Mattis said it included a research facility, a command and control Center and a storage facility. And Defense - chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Joe Dunford, said Syria fired some surface-to-air weaponry. But it seemed to be minimal. The Russians, however, said most of those cruise missiles were shot out of the sky by Syrians.

SIMON: At the same time, was there apparently any confrontation with Russia? They have - they've issued a statement condemning the attacks. But there was a lot of concern that they might be drawn in? Were they?

BOWMAN: There was a lot of concern. They were not drawn in. They have what's called - it's called a deconfliction-confliction line because both the U.S. and Russian military, of course, are operating in Syria. And that deconfliction line prevents any mishaps or accidents with military aircraft operating. So they did tell Russia they would be operating in this area before the attack. They said they didn't really tell them exactly what they'd be doing but just, we'll be operating in this area.

SIMON: Is hitting a chemical weapons facility dangerous to civilians that might be next door?

BOWMAN: No, because it can use specific kinds of weapons that basically, you know, cook the agent and prevent it from turning into a toxic cloud. And also General Dunford said there were some facilities they decided not to hit because of fear of civilian casualties.

SIMON: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, thanks so much for being with us.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.