US attack on Syrian airfield lauded by regime opponents in the war-torn nation
Friday Syrians opposed to the Damascus regime lauded the U.S. airstrikes that destroyed an airfield believed to have been used by Assad’s forces to drop chemical bombs on Idlib earlier this week. The surprise attack marks the first time the U.S. military, which has been devoted to only attacking ISIS posts in the north, has directly targeted Syrian forces amid the country’s six-year war.
“I am so happy. People are happy. They have hope the U.S. can end this war by stopping the regime aircraft from more bombs,” 27-year-old aid worker in Idlib, Ali Essa, told Fox News. “We wish for the peace.”
At least 50 U.S. Tomahawk missiles struck an airbase at Shayrat, located outside of Homs, believed to be the originating point for Tuesday’s chemical weapons onslaught that took the lives of more than 72 civilians, with scores of women and children among the casualties.
For Essa, this was symbolic.
“This airbase killed many of our friends and neighbors,” he said.
Another doctor on the ground treating chemical victims, Dr. Mohammad Alhamwj, noted that the strikes in the very least tells Iran, Russia and Syria that the U.S. intends to be “the main player on the land in Syria,” and that what they really need is a complete ban on the flying of all warplanes to stop the bloodshed.
But for others, this simply wasn’t enough.
“The death of 100 people by nerve gas is vindicated only through shelling a small airport in suburbs Homs? A very modest intervention that does not rise to the crimes,” humanitarian volunteer Rania Kisar, lamented, noting that he hopes now America will “go back to being a great nation like it was before the leadership of Obama.”
The former U.S. president is routinely condemned by regime opponents for failing to intervene in the Syrian conflict.
Idlib local, Suhaib Zakour, concurred that the one set of strikes “will not stop” more deaths at regime hands.
“Some were hoping for more,” he said.
A source connected Damascus told Fox News immediately after the attack that the U.S.’s hard and fast reaction came as a “great surprise” to top Syrian intelligence and Generals who did not expect that the U.S. would take such a route so quickly. Several civilians Fox News spoke to Damascus seemed unaware of the attack, even hours later, suggesting it was downplayed in supporter circles.
However Russian officials — staunch allies to the Syrian regime — were said to have been anticipating U.S. military momentum and were hinging on trying to establish some kind of negotiations, but terms were not met in time.
Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed that the Russians were notified in advance, and while no personnel was injured, equipment and infrastructure was damaged this diminishing the ability to launch chemical attacks.
Both Syrian and Russian authorities have staunchly denied accusations of engaging in chemical warfare, instead blaming the armed resistance — or terrorists in their wording — as the instigators behind the brutal violation of international law. However, U.S. radar intelligence established that Syrian planes were in the air and did drop bombs in and around the time and place of the chemical attack, according to multiple reports.
The Kremlin said later in a statement Friday that the U.S. airstrike carried out on a Syrian airbase is “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law.” The statement added that Putin believes the U.S. authorized the strikes under “far-fetched pretext.”
President Trump — who did not announce the attacks in advance — called the retaliation a “vital national security interest” of the United States, and called on “civilized nations” to join “seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria.”
“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically,” the president said Thursday from Florida, in reference to Syrian President Bashar Assad. “As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen, and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.”
This marked a sharp turnaround from earlier this week, when Trump administration officials publicly vowed that it was no longer going to be U.S. policy to seek regime change in the embattled country. It also raises questions over the future of U.S-Russian relations, given that both Trump and Putin advocated hopes for closer ties moving forward.
“Many Syrians have a lot of respect for this move by President Trump,” Susan Baaj, the chairwoman for the nonprofit Syrian Institute for Peace said. “We needed someone to take action, not just say they would take action. This is a real turning point.”
Dr. Souheil Abbal of the Syrian American Medical Society, too, praised the military response as long overdue.
“This what Obama should have done when Assad crossed the red line,” Abbal told Fox News, referring to the chemical attack in 2013 in which Obama warned of retaliation but did not act upon it. “The U.S.A. now has great supporters in Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Gulf states and Iraq. Even Lebanon was waiting for such action to signal serious containment of Hezbollah. This is the moment of truth in the Middle East.”
However, Syrian-American political activist and President of Syrian Christians for Peace, Ayman Abdel Nour, cautioned that while the strikes do send a “very clear message to Assad,” this one time “cannot be the last.”
“If they do just attack once, this will only empower Assad and Russia and Iran that the U.S. is weak. This must continue to end the war,” Nour said. “And they must show the people in the army that they can no longer blindly follow this regime.”
However, others fear that the U.S. may have opened a can of worms that will only embolden the extremist’s opposition factions in the country.
“It’s unclear how big the US military response will be. I hope it’s limited to sending a signal to Assad that he cannot attack the population with impunity,” added Max Abrahms, professor of political science at Northeastern University. “My concern is that if Assad is toppled the power vacuum will be filled with Al Qaeda-type terrorists. A key question is what has been negotiated between the U.S. and Russia. Can they find agree on an alternative to Assad that won’t empower the terrorists?”