CHICAGO (CBS) — Some members of Illinois’ congressional delegation backed President Donald Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian military base in response to a chemical weapons attack blamed on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
More than 80 people were killed in the chemical weapons attack earlier this week, including at least 25 children.
Thursday night, two U.S. Navy warships fired a salvo of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat airfield in Homs province, where the Sarin nerve gas attack is believed to have originated. U.S. officials said 58 of the missiles destroyed their intended target. At least seven people were killed and nine were injured.
Sources said the bombing was ordered to send a message to Assad and his ally, Russia, that the U.S. would do what it can to prevent and deter the use of chemical weapons.
Syrian activists said it was a message that had to be sent.
“I think the message that was sent, or should be sent, is that chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity,” said Dr. Nour Akhras, of the Syrian American Medical Society.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) was among the congressional leaders briefed shortly after the attack was launched. Calling Tuesday’s suspected nerve gas attack in Syria a “human rights atrocity,” Durbin said he supports the strike on the Shayrat airfield.
“This, from preliminary information I’ve been given by the White House, is a measured response against that, striking the airbase that was a source of these nerve gas bombings. What remains to be seen is what the reaction will be there against the United States, if any, and what the reaction of our allies will be as they are trying to understand our policy toward Assad,” he said.
The senator did say the U.S. strike signals an abrupt policy change by the Trump administration.
“He said Assad was an acceptable leader last week, and attacked him the next week, so I’m sure there’s some puzzlement among our allies as to what we’re doing there, and what we plan on doing next. There’s real uncertainty from this administration,” he said.
Durbin said any further action by the U.S. military would require Congressional scrutiny, and support of the American people.
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) said he’s been calling for air strikes on the Assad regime for years.
“Tonight, the United States stood up for humanity, and sent a clear message to the barbaric Syrian regime, and the entire world. America will not sit idly by, and allow a dictator to butcher his country’s men, women, and children. I applaud the President for his swift action against Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian military,” Kinzinger said in a statement Thursday night.
Meantime, Syrian-Americans in Chicago expressed concerns the U.S. would respond to a chemical weapons attack, but seemed to tolerate the indiscriminate use of “barrel bombs,” which have claimed the lives of tens of thousands in the Syrian civil war.
Hani Atassi, president of the Midwest Chapter of the Syrian American Council, said he hopes the Trump administration goes even further.
“The essence of the problem is Assad himself. He created the refugees. He created all the havoc that’s going on right now, and in order for us to really address the Syrian refugees, we have to address the removal of Assad,” he said.
Akhras said a lot more is at stake than Syrian lives.
“It’s not just a matter of Syria and its own business, there’s the refugee crisis, there’s the growth of ISIS in Syria that’s been caused by the failure of the international community to intervene in Syria,” she said.
Assad has denied carrying out the chemical attack, claiming any chemical agents released were the result of conventional weapons hitting a rebel stockpile. He has called the U.S. strike “reckless” and “irresponsible.” In a statement he said the strikes were “shortsighted” and reflect a continuation of U.S. policy based on targeting and “subjugating people.” He said the decision to carry out the strike was not based on facts.
Russia also has denounced the U.S. strike.
“The actions taken today by the USA further destroy Russian-American relations,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Friday morning.
Russia was warned about the strike ahead of time, so Russian personnel could be moved away from the base before it was attacked.