U.S. blasts Syrian airbase with barrage of cruise missiles

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A screen grab from Syrian official TV shows burned and damaged hangar warplanes attacked by U.S. Tomahawk missiles, at the Shayrat Syrian government forces airbase, southeast of Homs, Syria, early Friday April, 7, 2017. (Syrian government TV, via AP)

At least seven people were killed and nine injured in an airstrike in Syria by the United States early Friday local time.

The Pentagon said that 59 U.S. Tomahawk missiles, fired from the USS Porter and the USS Ross in the Mediterranean Sea, targeted an air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack that American officials believe Syrian government aircraft launched with a nerve agent, possibly sarin, earlier in the week.

U.S. defense officials told Fox the two warships have been training for the past two days to execute this mission.

President Donald Trump said the missile attack was in the nation's "vital national security interest." He said the U.S. must "prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons."

"My fellow Americans, on Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. Using a deadly nerve agent, he choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children," Trump said. "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."

Trump said that previous attempts of trying to change Assad's behavior "failed and failed very dramatically."

After the president spoke, the Department of Defense issued a statement saying that at Trump's order, the Navy launched the airstrikes at 8:40 p.m. Eastern time (about 4:40 a.m. Friday Syria time).

"The strike was a proportional response to Assad's heinous act. Shayrat Airfield was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian air forces," Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in the statement. The U.S. intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the chemical weapons attack on April 4. The strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again."

Captain Davis said the U.S. notified Russian forces in the area ahead of the strike and that the military took precautions to "minimize risk" to Russian and Syrian troops at the airfield.

Syrian state TV reported the attack on a number of military targets and called the attack an "aggression."

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., released a joint statement in support of the strike.

"We salute the skill and professionalism of the U.S. Armed Forces who carried out tonight's strikes in Syria," they said in the statement. "Acting on the orders of their commander-in-chief, they have sent an important message the United States will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin's Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs."

"Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian Government's ability to deliver chemical weapons," Captain Davis said. "The use of chemical weapons against innocent people will not be tolerated."

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