What We Know About Donald Trump's Strike on a Syrian Regime Air Base

U.S. strike
U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) in the Mediterranean Sea conducting part of a cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7. The strike killed six Syrian troops, Damascus said on Friday, and almost completely destroyed the base, monitors said. Ford Williams/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters

Late Thursday, President Donald Trump spoke from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, announcing his order for a "targeted military strike" against a Syrian regime air base. The air base, he said, was the location for the launch of Tuesday's suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town in Syria.

It signaled the first direct Western military action against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, on the 100th anniversary of America's entry into World War I.

The Pentagon said the U.S. fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from two U.S. Navy warships in the eastern Mediterranean beginning at around 8.40 p.m. eastern time. They struck the Al Shayrat air base, near the central city of Homs, which once served as the capital of the Syrian revolution.

The military issued a statement read on state television, saying that strikes killed at least six Syrian troops. It calling the attack a "blatant aggression" and an attempt to undermine Damascus's operations against extremists. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, called it "an act of aggression against a sovereign nation." The Pentagon said the military notified Russian forces before the attack. NATO confirmed the U.S. also informed it of its plan to strike the air base.

The number of strikes on the compound left it almost completely destroyed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group with an extensive network of contacts in Syria. Russian state TV said the attack destroyed nine military jets, but the runway was relatively undamaged. The U.S. has not commented on the damage inflicted.

Trump's National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, in remarks made in a press briefing after the attack, said the U.S. was confident that Syrian aircraft dropped sarin gas on civilians in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. That strike killed at least 86 people, including more than 20 children. The Pentagon released a graphic after the strike that showed a flight path of a regime aircraft flying from the base to the town of Khan Sheikhoun. The base serves as one of six key regime airfields, and McMaster said that while the cruise missiles would not eliminate the regime's chemical weapons capability, they would damage it.

Read more: The risks of Trump's strike on Assad in Syria

The targets of the strikes, according to the Pentagon, were Syrian fighter jets, radar equipment, air defense systems, aircraft shelters and ammunition bunkers. The focus was on limiting the Syrian air force's ability to fly over rebel-held territory, dropping chemical weapons into civilian areas.

Trump directly accused Assad of conducting the chemical strike on Tuesday and said, "It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons."

"Years of previous attempts at changing Assad's behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically," he said. "As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen, and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies."

It is a strike that could change the history and the direction of the conflict, and has already provoked reactions among Syria's allies. Moscow announced shortly after the strike that it would halt an agreement with the U.S. that aims to prevent clashes between their air forces in the skies over Syria.

"The Russian side is halting the effect of the memorandum for prevention of incidents and ensuring safety of air flights during operations in Syria which was agreed with the U.S.," said a statement by the Russian foreign ministry. It called for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on the attack, saying the U.S. strike was a "gross…violation of international law."

Key U.S. allies, including Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Israel, Australia and Turkey, came out in support of Trump's actions in Syria. Turkey called for a no-fly zone in Syria to "prevent similar massacres from happening."

Iran, whose troops are operating in Syria to support Assad, condemned the attack. China urged caution and warned against an escalation in the country.