Edward Malnick, Ben Riley-Smith — Telegraph.co.uk April 14, 2018
The US is “locked and loaded” for further strikes against Bashar al-Assad, Donald Trump said last night, as military chiefs acknowledged that the Syrian dictator retained an ability to carry out chemical attacks on his people.
After a series of raids on chemical weapons facilities in Syria by Britain, the US and France in the early hours of yesterday, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, told an emergency meeting of the Security Council that the US president would launch another intervention “if the Syrian regime uses this poison gas again”.
British politicians and diplomats adopted a more cautious tone about the possibility of involvement in further action, although Whitehall sources said the mission had sent a “strong message” that the UK would not tolerate the use of chemical weapons.
Today Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, says that Britain had a duty to act to prevent other states concluding that Assad “got away with it” and using chemical weapons themselves.
“Unless we act there is a risk of moral contamination, a coarsening and corruption of what we have until now thought to be acceptable,” he writes.
Three suspected chemical weapons facilities were hit at 2am yesterday by 105 US, British and French missiles in an operation set in motion at 10.30pm on Friday in a telephone call between Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, and his counterparts in Paris and Washington DC.
Yesterday afternoon, Theresa May spoke to Mr Trump and Emmanuel Macron, the French president, in separate calls in which the leaders agreed the strikes had been a “success”, and acknowledged the support from other world leaders and the European Union.
A “deconfliction” hotline between the US and Russia was used to avoid clashes in the airspace over Syria, but Vladimir Putin, who has supported Assad in Syria, described the strikes as “destructive”.
A senior military source accused Mr Macron of “flexing his muscles” by ensuring that France’s contribution to the attack exceeded the UK’s, with 12 missiles fired compared to Britain’s eight.
“France is very much trying to be America’s go-to guy in Europe and therefore jump ahead very, very quickly, with Macron appearing ready to go,” the source said. “It’s part of his whole image. I think it was reflected in the scale of their contribution.”
A Whitehall source added: “There is an element of feeling that Macron is looking to make a bit of a name for himself and to show his credentials to Trump. For us it was not a numbers game.”
Mrs May disclosed that four RAF Tornado GR4s were dispatched from RAF Akrotiri in southern Cyprus to attack a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs.
Addressing the Security Council last night, Ms Haley said: “[Mr Trump] said if the Syrian regime uses this poison gas again, the United States is locked and loaded. When our president draws a red line, our president enforces the red line.” Mr Trump had earlier said the Syrian strikes had been “perfectly executed”.
Ms Haley’s warning came after the Pentagon said the strikes would set back Syria’s chemical weapons programme “for years”.
But Lt Gen Kenneth McKenzie, director of the US military’s joint staff, said: “I would say there’s still a residual element of the Syrian program that’s out there. I’m not going to say that they’re going to be unable to continue to conduct a chemical attack in the future. I suspect, however, they’ll think long and hard about it.”
Earlier, Mrs May had said of the Syrian regime: “They should be in no doubt of our resolve … to ensure that we do return to the situation where it is accepted that the use of chemical weapons … is banned.”
She also drew a link between last weekend’s “despicable and barbaric” chemical atrocity in Syria and the recent nerve agent attack on a former spy and his daughter in Salisbury.
Mrs May phoned the Scottish and Welsh first ministers, as well as Jeremy Corbyn and other opposition leaders, to inform them of her decision on Friday night.