MOSCOW (Russia) - President Donald Trump’s administration has made clear it sees Moscow as complicit in the latest suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, but Pentagon planners are taking pains to avoid hitting Russian military assets.
Saturday’s strikes were limited in scope despite bellicose rhetoric from both sides, while a direct clash between the West and Russia in Syria could quickly flip the seven-year-old conflict in a new and dangerous direction.
According to General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the strikes hit three targets related to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons programme -- a scientific research centre near Damascus, a weapons storage facility west of Homs and a third location that contained both a command post and an equipment storage facility in the same area.
These targets appeared to steer well clear of any Russian military personnel or equipment.
Moscow said none of the missiles hit its Hmeimim airbase or its naval facility at Tartus adding that it did not activate its own sophisticated air defence systems.
“With regard to the Russian concerns, we specifically identified these targets to mitigate the risk of Russian forces being involved,” Dunford said.
Russia’s defence ministry said no Syrian civilians or military were killed in the attacks.
The Russian military said 103 cruise missiles were fired, including Tomahawk missiles, but Syrian air defence systems managed to intercept 71 of them.
In his primetime address announcing the strikes, Trump accused Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government of failing to guarantee a 2013 deal that was supposed to rid Assad of his chemical weapons.
“Assad’s recent attack -- and today’s response -- are the direct result of Russia’s failure to keep that promise,” Trump said. (AFP)