The U.S. government fired 59 Tomahawk missiles Thursday night at a Syrian regime airfield in Homs, MSNBC reported. The strikes come after President Donald Trump warned there would be consequences for Tuesday's chemical weapons attack in the province of Idlib that killed over 70 civilians, which eyewitnesses say was the work of the regime.
"Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children," Trump said Thursday night from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. "It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this barbaric attack."
The U.S. has been bombing Syria since September 2014, targeting the Islamic State and other extremist groups. Last month, as ATTN: reported, U.S. airstrikes hit a mosque packed with worshippers in the province of Aleppo, killing dozens of civilians. Thursday's attack was the first, however, to deliberately target the Syrian regime.
Trump said the strikes targeted "the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched," saying it was a "vital national security interest" that the international prohibition against the use of chemical weapons be upheld.
In 2013, former President Barack Obama threatened to use force against the Assad regime after a Sarin attack that left hundreds of civilians dead. Those strikes never came, with Israel, the U.S., and Russia brokering a deal under which the regime was supposed to get rid of its chemical weapon reserves.
"Years of previous attempts at changing Assad's behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically," Trump said. "As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies."
The U.S. president called on all "civilized" nations to join him in seeking an end to the bloodshed in Syria.
The strikes are a sudden about-face for the Trump administration, which prior to the chemical attacks had expressed an overt willingness to accommodate Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's regime, preferring to focus on the threat of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. The strikes do not mean the U.S. is seeking regime change, however, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson telling reporters there has been no change in U.S. policy toward the Syrian government.
In a statement, the Pentagon also confirmed that Russian forces "were notified in advance of the strike" and that "U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield."
Over 400,000 Syrians have been killed and more than 11 million displaced since a peaceful uprising in 2011 was violently repressed, spurring a civil war.
Updated 4/6/2017 at 7:12 p.m. PT: This story has been updated to include President Trump's remarks and an official statement from the Pentagon.