By Ryman Curtis
In the early morning hours of Saturday, 105 missiles lit up the skies of Syria. The missiles, launched by a coalition of the U.S., British and French militaries, were directed at two targets: the Barzah Research and Development Center and the Him Shinshar chemical weapons complex. In a news conference the next morning, the U.S. military claimed victory, detailing what Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. termed as a “precise, overwhelming, and effective” operation.
The two targets were both related to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s suspected recent use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians. The chemical attack occurred in the city of Douma and killed over 70 Syrian civilians through the use of chlorine gas and sarin. The Syrian and Russian governments both deny involvement in the attacks, despite U.S. and rebel accusations otherwise.
The Barzah Research and Development Center, located on the outskirts of Damascus, was a research facility which developed and stored weapons. According to The Washington Post, it was run by the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), a government agency that the U.S. placed sanctions on last year after discovering that the SSRC was responsible for a sarin attack on civilians. The Pentagon reports that the complex has been completely destroyed, setting “the Syrian chemical weapons program back for years.”
The second target, the Him Shinshar chemical weapons complex, is located outside of the western Syrian city of Homs. Two locations within the complex were targeted: a chemical weapons storage facility as well as a bunker some distance away. The weapons complex was initially built in the early 1980s by the Soviet Union as a defense against Israeli air attacks. While the storage facility was completely destroyed, McKenzie said that the bunker was “successfully hit and sustained damage,” indicating that it may have not been entirely demolished.
The response to the airstrikes has been contentious. While a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll found the majority—58 percent—of U.S. voters support the strikes, many Democrats and some Republicans have come out against them. Democrats that are further to the left such as Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and libertarian-leaning Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) oppose the strikes on the grounds that President Donald Trump did not seek congressional approval for them and they were thus unconstitutional. They also expressed concern as to potential civilian lives lost in the strikes as both strikes occurred in heavily populated areas. This also seems to be a concern on campus, with Andrew Dugan (’21), an International Relations and English double major and Middle Eastern Studies minor, saying, “It is an atrocity that lives are at stake for the sake of some petty, international feud.” Democrats are not unilaterally opposed to the strikes, however, with some Democratic legislators from states that Trump won, such as Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Oh.) expressing their support for the military and the strikes.
The Pentagon was clear in its press briefing that this is not indicative of an escalation to a full-scale war, with Defense Secretary James Mattis calling it a “one-time shot.” While many Syrian chemical weapons facilities are now destroyed or incapacitated, it remains to be seen whether the remaining facilities will face sanctions or further missile strikes.
Photo Courtesy of The Associated Press