What we know about the missile strike on Syria

President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike early Friday on a Syrian air base in response to this week’s chemical attack, which marked the first time the U.S. has directly targeted Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

The overnight missile attack was condemned by Assad’s allies in Russia and Iran but welcomed by the Syrian opposition and its supporters, who expressed hope it signaled a turning point in the devastating six-year-old civil war.

The bombing represents Trump’s most dramatic military order since taking office and thrusts the U.S. administration deeper into the complex Syrian conflict.

Here’s what we know about the attack and its implications:

Credit: Newsday / Rod Eyer

The details of the attack

About 60 U.S. Tomahawk missiles hit the Shayrat air base, southeast of Homs, a small installation with two runways, where aircraft often take off to bomb targets in northern and central Syria. The U.S. missiles hit at 3:45 a.m. (0045 GMT) Friday morning and targeted the base’s airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, U.S. officials said.

They were fired from two warships in the Mediterranean Sea, in retaliation for Tuesday’s deadly chemical attack, which officials said used chlorine mixed with a nerve agent, possibly sarin.

The Syrian military said at least seven people were killed and nine wounded in the strike.

Trump’s statement

My fellow Americans:

On Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.

Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.

It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.

There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.

Read the full statement

Syria’s response

Assad’s office called the U.S. missile strike “reckless” and “irresponsible.” The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitor, also put the death toll at seven, including a general and three soldiers.

Syria has denied using chemical weapons.

Syrian civil war and U.S. response The U.S. attack on a Syrian air base came after years of heated debate and deliberation in Washington over intervention in the bloody civil war.

01 March 2011

March 2011

Protests erupt in the city of Daraa over security forces' detention of a group of boys accused of painting anti-government graffiti on the walls of their school. On March 15, a protest is held in Damascus' Old City. On March 18, security forces open fire on a protest in Daraa, killing four people in what activists regard as the first deaths of the uprising. Demonstrations spread, as does the crackdown by President Bashar Assad's forces.

01 April 2011

April 2011

Security forces raid a sit-in in Syria's third-largest city, Homs, where thousands of people tried to create the mood of Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of protests against Egypt's autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

18 August 2011

Obama responds

President Barack Obama calls on Assad to resign and orders Syrian government assets frozen.

20 August 2012

Summer 2012: Fighting spreads to Aleppo

Obama says the use of chemical weapons would be a "red line" that would change his calculus on intervening in the civil war and have "enormous consequences."

19 March 2013

Sarin nerve gas kills 26 people

The Syrian government and opposition trade accusations over a gas attack that killed some 26 people, including more than a dozen government soldiers, in the town of Khan al-Assal in northern Syria. A U.N. investigation later finds that sarin nerve gas was used, but does not identify a culprit.

21 August 2013

Another gas attack kills hundreds

Hundreds of people suffocate in rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital, with many suffering from convulsions, pinpoint pupils, and foaming at the mouth. U.N. investigators visit the sites and determine that ground-to-ground missiles loaded with sarin were fired on civilian areas while residents slept. The U.S. and others blame the Syrian government, the only party to the conflict known to have sarin gas.

31 August 2013

Obama lacks support for strikes

Obama says he will go to Congress for authorization to carry out punitive strikes against the Syrian government, but appears to lack the necessary support in the legislature.

27 September 2013

Syria ordered to destroy chemical weapons

The U.N. Security Council orders Syria to account for and destroy its chemical weapons stockpile, following a surprise agreement between Washington and Moscow, averting U.S. strikes. The Security Council threatens to authorize the use of force in the event of non-compliance.

14 October 2013

Syria becomes a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, prohibiting it from producing, stockpiling or using chemical weapons.

23 June 2014

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says it has removed the last of the Syrian government's chemical weapons. Syrian opposition officials maintain that the government's stocks were not fully accounted for, and that it retained supplies.

23 September 2014

U.S. airstrikes target IS

The U.S. launches airstrikes on Islamic State group targets in Syria.

07 August 2015

Reports of chlorine gas attacks

The U.N. Security Council authorizes the OPCW and U.N. investigators to probe reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, as reports circulate of repeated chlorine gas attacks by government forces against civilians in opposition-held areas. Chlorine gas, though not as toxic as nerve agents, can be classified as a chemical weapon depending on its use.

24 August 2016

Syrian government held responsible

The joint OPCW-U.N. panel determines the Syrian government twice used helicopters to deploy chlorine gas against its opponents, in civilian areas in the northern Idlib province. A later report holds the government responsible for a third attack. The attacks occurred in 2014 and 2015. The panel also finds that the Islamic State group used mustard gas.

28 February 2017

Russia, China stand with Syria

Russia, a stalwart ally of the Syrian government, and China veto a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing sanctions against the Syrian government for chemical weapons use.

04 April 2017

Nerve gas attack kills dozens

At least 58 people are killed in what doctors say could be a nerve gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in the rebel-held Idlib province. Victims show signs of suffocation, convulsions, foaming at the mouth and pupil constriction. Witnesses say the attack was carried out by either Russian or Syrian Sukhoi jets. Moscow and Damascus deny responsibility.

04 April 2017

Trump rebukes Assad

President Donald Trump issues a statement saying that the "heinous" actions of Assad's government are the direct result of Obama administration's "weakness and irresolution."

05 April 2017

Trump says Assad's government has "crossed a lot of lines" with the suspected chemical attack in Syria.

06 April 2017

U.S. fires missiles into Syria

The U.S. fired a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria Thursday night in retaliation for this week's gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians, U.S. officials said. It was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump's most dramatic military order since becoming president. Trump said strike on Syria in the "vital national security interest" of the United States.

Russia’s response

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin believes the U.S. strike is an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law.” Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin believes the U.S. launched the strikes under a “far-fetched pretext.”

“Washington’s move deals a significant blow to the Russia-U.S. relations, which are already in a deplorable shape,” Peskov said. He added that the attack creates a “serious obstacle” for creating an international coalition against terrorism.

In the aftermath of the attack, Russia announced it would suspend the “deconfliction line” — the same information-sharing line the U.S. used to warn Russia about the attack ahead of time. It’s the first time the line has been severed. Russia still has several dozen warplanes and batteries of air defense missiles at its base near Latakia, Syria.

A Syrian child receives treatment after an alleged chemical attack at a field hospital in Saraqib, in Idlib province in northern Syria, on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. EPA photo.

What’s next for U.S.-Russia relations

Lt. Col. Michelle L. Baldanza, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the U.S. military wants to continue to talk to Russia. “It is to the benefit of all parties operating in the air over Syria to avoid accidents and miscalculation, and we hope the Russian Ministry of Defense comes to this conclusion as well,” Baldanza said.

The U.S. maintains radar coverage and has other surveillance means to know who is in the air. However, ending the cooperation will mean U.S. and coalition pilots will be flying into Syrian airspace not knowing if Russian forces plan their own operations in the same places. Airwars, a nonprofit monitoring airstrikes in the war against the Islamic State group, noted that U.S.-led attacks typically focus on areas away from Russian activity, though ending the cooperation represents “a worrying development.”

What’s next in Syria?

The bombing represents Trump’s most dramatic military order since taking office and thrusts the U.S. administration deeper into the complex Syrian conflict. The Obama administration threatened to attack Assad’s forces after previous chemical attacks, but never followed through.

The U.S. had initially focused on diplomatic efforts, pressing the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution to condemn Syria’s suspected use of chemical weapons. But the vote was canceled because of differences among the 15 members.

The Security Council plans to meet Friday morning for a briefing on the U.S. strike.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said before the airstrike Thursday afternoon that Assad should no longer have a role in governing the Syrian people and the U.S. is evaluating an appropriate response.

Response from around the world

World leaders rallied around the United States after it launched a missile strike. Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which support the Syrian opposition, welcomed the missile strike, with Riyadh calling it a “courageous decision” by Trump. Iran called it a “dangerous” unilateral action that would “strengthen terrorists” and further complicate the conflict.

The British government says it was informed in advance about the strike and firmly supports the American action.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s office says the action was “an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime, and is intended to deter further attacks.” France, Italy and Israel also welcomed the strikes.

A measured response from U.S. politicians

Amid measured support for the U.S. cruise missile attack on a Syrian air base, some vocal Republicans and Democrats reprimanded the White House for launching the strike without first getting congressional approval.

The politically diverse group ranges from the libertarian-leaning Kentucky GOP Rep. Tom Massie to Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016. They’ve told Trump the U.S. Constitution gives Congress sole power to declare war and said the president needs to convince them that they should.

What Syrian civilians have said so far

A survivor of the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun told the AP he hopes the U.S. missile attack puts an end to government airstrikes, creating a safe area for civilians.

Alaa Alyousef, a 27-year old resident of Khan Sheikhoun, said the U.S. missile attack “alleviates a small part of our suffering,” but he said he worried it would be an “anesthetic” that numbs their pain and saves face for the international community.

“What good is a strike on Shayrat air base alone while we have more than 15 other air bases,” he said. Alyousef lost at least 25 relatives in the chemical attack.