US strike destroyed fifth of Al Assad's planes

US strike destroyed fifth of Al Assad's planes

Pentagon chief Mattis claims serious dent made in regime resources with retaliation to chemical attack

This satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows an image captured on April 7 of destroyed aircraft shelters on the southeast side of the Shayrat air base in Syria, following U.S. missile strikes on Friday, April 7, 2017.

Washington: The US strike on a Syrian air base destroyed a fifth of the Damascus regime’s remaining warplanes, Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said Monday as Washington fired a fresh salvo of warnings at President Bashar Al Assad.

The public assessment of Friday’s missile strike and the forceful rhetoric came as G7 ministers met in Italy to send a “clear and coordinated” message to Russia over its support for Damascus.

The United States on Friday blasted 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air base near Homs, which the Pentagon said Al Assad’s jets had used to launch a deadly chemical attack on rebel-held Idlib province.

“The United States will not passively stand by while Al Assad murders innocent people with chemical weapons, which are prohibited by international law and which were declared destroyed,” Mattis said in a statement, noting that 20 percent of Al Assad’s “operational” aircraft were destroyed.

“The Syrian government would be ill-advised ever again to use chemical weapons,” he added.

Mattis’s warning came as White House spokesman Sean Spicer appeared to lower the threshold for new US action against Al Assad to include barrel bombs, a crude yet hugely destructive weapon of choice for the Syrian leader.

“If you gas a baby or drop a barrel bomb onto innocent people, you will see a response from” President Donald Trump, Spicer said.

But US officials later walked back Spicer’s remarks.

“Nothing has changed in our posture,” a senior administration official said.

“As the president has repeatedly made clear, he will not be telegraphing his military responses,” the official said.

Trump discussed Syria during a telephone call Monday with British Prime Minister Theresa May and “agreed that a window of opportunity now exists in which to persuade Russia that its alliance with Al Assad is no longer in its strategic interest,” Downing Street said in a statement.

The two leaders were looking to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to Moscow this week as an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a “lasting political settlement.”

‘Toxic’ Al Assad

At the outset of the G7 gathering in the Tuscan city of Lucca, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson described Al Assad as “toxic,” and said it was “time for (Russian President) Vladimir Putin to face the truth about the tyrant he is propping up.”

Tillerson also attended the meeting at the 15th century Ducal Palace, along with foreign ministers from Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

The annual two-day meeting had initially been expected to focus on talks with Tillerson about hotspots like Libya, Iran and Ukraine.

But the agenda is now likely to be dominated by last week’s suspected chemical weapons attack that killed at least 87 civilians.

Washington’s missile strike was the first time it had intervened directly against the regime of Al Assad, who is fighting a civil war with the backing of Russia and Iran.

Several rounds of UN-backed peace talks have failed to end the conflict, which has killed more than 320,000 people since March 2011.

‘End Al Assad support’

Iran and North Korea have slammed Washington’s retaliation and put it on a direct diplomatic collision course with Moscow, where Tillerson heads Tuesday for talks with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Johnson on Monday called on Moscow to do “everything possible to bring about a political settlement in Syria and work with the rest of the international community to ensure that the shocking events of the last week are never repeated.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the pressing task for the G7 was to “find a political solution, a political transition” in Syria, particularly if the West wanted to triumph over Daesh.

Meanwhile, the leaders of southern EU nations said Monday the US missile strike on the Syrian air base was “understandable.”

“The strike launched by the United States on Shayrat Airfield in Syria had the understandable intention to prevent and deter the spread and use of chemical weapons and was limited and focused on this objective,” they said in a joint statement after a summit in Madrid.