US strikes Syria: What you need to know

  • 08/04/2017

United States forces have fired more than 50 tomahawk missiles against targets in Syria following the deadly chemical attack on civilians on Tuesday.

  • Previous air strikes on Syrian territory by a US-led coalition have been against only the militant group Islamic State, which is also the enemy of the Syrian government.
  • US officials informed Russian forces ahead of the strikes, and say it avoided hitting Russian personnel.
  • Satellite imagery suggests the Shayrat air base that was struck is home to Russian special forces and military helicopters, that are helping the Syrian government fight Islamic State and other militant groups.
  • Syrian warplanes are taking off from the air base that was hit, to carry out air strikes on rebel-held areas in the eastern Homs countryside, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says. The British-based Observatory said eight people had been killed in the US attack.
  • The extent of the damage to the air base was not entirely clear, but the Syrian warplanes had "done the impossible" in order to continue using it.
  • US President Donald Trump had ordered the strikes from his Florida estate on Thursday afternoon, before his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Opinion: US airstrikes help Islamic State

A brief history of the Syrian civil war 

  • Russia has carried out air strikes in Syria with the Syrian government since 2015. Iranian militias are also fighting alongside the troops of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
  • The US United Nations ambassador says the US took a very measured step that was "fully justified".

"We are prepared to do more, but we hope that will not be necessary," Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council.

"The United States will not stand by when chemical weapons are used. It is in our vital national security interest to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons."

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appealed for restraint.

"Mindful of the risk of escalation, I appeal for restraint to avoid any acts that could deepen the suffering of the Syrian people," he said in a statement.

  • Russia's deputy UN envoy, Vladimir Safronkov, has condemned the "illegitimate" US strikes in Syria and said the consequences for regional and international stability could be extremely serious.

He described them as an "attempt to distract attention from the many victims amongst the peaceful population in Iraq and Syria caused by unilateral actions".

But US allies took a different stance.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's goal is "annihilation, quite simply, of all those who resist him, whatever the price might be," French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre says.

Assad has been "put on notice" by the US, Britain's UN ambassador Matthew Rycroft said, describing it as a "proportionate response to unspeakable acts".

Germany, Japan, Turkey, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand representatives have all expressed support for the US action.

Indonesia has strongly condemned the use of chemical weapons, but expressed concern on the US airstrikes.

  • The situation in Syria "amounts to an international armed conflict" the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says.

"Any military operation by a state on the territory of another without the consent of the other amounts to an international armed conflict," ICRC spokeswoman Iolanda Jaquemet said.

Under international humanitarian law, whether a conflict is internal or international, civilians must be spared and medical facilities protected.