“Mission accomplished”: the West strikes Syria

Big hitters: The Tomahawk missiles fired on Saturday cost an estimated £1 million each. © Getty

Were we right to hit Syria with missiles? The US, the UK and France claim to have destroyed the bulk of Syria’s chemical weapons facilities. What comes next is far from clear…

Early on Saturday, missiles flew over Syria, striking three facilities linked to Syria’s manufacture of chemical weapons.

The US, the UK and France ordered the strikes in retaliation for a suspected gas attack on the city of Douma a week previously, which left over 70 dead. Evidence points to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad as the culprit.

“Mission accomplished!” tweeted US President Donald Trump. If Assad managed to carry out another chemical attack, the Western allies warned that they would strike again.

Chemical weapons are banned under international law due to their horrific effects, but some regimes continue to use them.

After Assad killed hundreds with sarin in 2013, the West considered military intervention in Syria. It held back when Assad, backed by his ally Russia, promised to destroy his chemical stockpile.

Yet chemical attacks on areas held by Assad’s rebel enemies continue, although Syria and Russia deny them. After one such attack last April, the US bombed a Syrian airbase.

Saturday’s strikes were more powerful. Yet they were carefully aimed away from civilians, and Syrian and Russian troops. As the Western allies admitted, they were not seeking to change the direction of Syria’s war.

Were they right to strike?

While the iron is hot

Of course, say some. We have let Assad get away with these awful attacks for too long. Saturday’s strikes sent a clear message. Powerful, precise and fair, they were a lesson in military intervention done well.

But now what? ask others. These strikes may not stop Assad from using chemicals again. If he does, we have to either order another useless strike or do something more drastic, risking war with Russia. If he doesn’t, he will massacre Syrians by other means anyway. Saturday’s attack was not thought through.

You Decide

  1. Was the strike a good idea?

Activities

  1. Write a letter to someone your age in Douma, asking them how they feel about the situation.

Some People Say...

“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Sun Tzu

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Western allies fired 105 missiles. They said that they hit a research centre in Damascus, plus storage facilities near Homs.
What do we not know?
How many of Assad’s chemical weapons are left. Another question is the legality of the strikes. The allies were not acting in self-defence and did not seek permission from the United Nations, potentially breaking international law.

Word Watch

Gas attack
US officials believe that sarin and chlorine gas were used.
Douma
The city was held by rebels (see below). After the attack, they fled.
Bashar al-Assad
Assad’s regime has been fighting various rebel groups since 2011.
International law
Under the Chemical Weapons Convention, states are not allowed to have chemical weapons. Syria signed up in 2013.
Risking war
After the strikes, Russia’s ambassador to the US tweeted: “Such actions will not be left without consequences.” For now, though, Russia seems unlikely to respond with force.

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