The United States has made slight adjustments to its military activities in Syria to strengthen protection of American forces following cruise missile strikes last week on a Syrian air base that heightened tensions, U.S. officials said on Monday.
In a sharp escalation of the U.S. military role in Syria, two U.S. warships fired dozens of cruise missiles from the eastern Mediterranean Sea at the airbase controlled by Assad regime forces in response to the deadly poison gas attack in a rebel-held area on Tuesday, U.S. officials said.
Trump ordered the strikes just a day after he pointed the finger at Assad for this week’s chemical attack.
“Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.”
“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically,” Trump said on Thursday.
Russia condemned the strikes, saying Washington’s action would “inflict major damage on US-Russia ties”, according to Russian news agencies.
In addition, Russia said that the latest US attack crossed all red lines threatening to meet any future “aggressions” with force.
“What America waged in an aggression on Syria is a crossing of red lines. From now on we will respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever it is and America knows our ability to respond well,” the Russian alliance in Syria said.
“We condemn any attack targeting civilians and also condemn what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, even if we are convinced it was a premeditated act by certain countries and organizations to serve as a pretext to attack Syria,” Sunday’s statement added.
Protection to be increased
The officials, citing operational security concerns, declined to specify what measures the United States has taken after the strikes.
But one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stressed the strikes had not slowed the campaign against Islamic State militants.
The United States has about 1,000 U.S. forces in Syria advising and training fighters to combat Islamic State and has regularly carried out air strikes against the militants. Those strikes have continued.
But as U.S. jets fly in Syrian airspace, one big question is whether the United States and Russia are keeping open a military communications channel to avoid an accidental clash.
The United States used the channel to advise Moscow ahead of its attack on the Syrian air base, to help ensure Russian personnel, who were also located on part of the base, would not be harmed or misinterpret the cruise missile strikes as an attack on them.
The U.S. military, which confirmed on Friday morning it believed the line of communications was still active, has since stopped commenting on whether it was operational.
Russian media has reported that Moscow has suspended the agreement that allows for those communications, a step that could heighten the risk of an accidental clash.
The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.