WASHINGTON– Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) downplayed suggestions that Thursday’s U.S. airstrike against a Syrian airbase was a precursor to further military engagement in the country.
“I don’t know why anybody was confused. I thought it was very clear what the strike was about: You don’t use chemical weapons without consequences. That’s a pretty clear message,” McConnell said at a news conference Friday.
President Donald Trump on Thursday evening ordered U.S. Navy vessels stationed off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea to fire 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat Airfield in western-central Syria. The airfield stored chemical weapons that were used in the recent attack that claimed the lives of about 100 civilians, including women, children and babies, Trump said after the strike.
Nine were killed in the U.S. airstrike and the airfield sustained heavy damage, authorities said.
Syria has been engulfed in sectarian violence since 2011 and the country’s dictator President Bashar-al-Assad has often faced international criticism as a war criminal for resorting to ruthless tactics to stamp out political opposition.
McConnell said he with spoke Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday evening and that Pence made clear that the airstrike was specifically designed to send a message to Assad that attacks on innocent civilians would not be tolerated.
When asked if he expected the Trump Administration to take further military action McConnell said: “I don’t know what we’ll here from them.”
McConnell and other GOP members of Congress have defended the airstrikes.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democratic lawmakers have implored that the Administration consult Congress if and when further military action is to be taken.
Assad has received substantial military support from Russia.
Reports emerged Friday suggesting Moscow is beefing up its support for Syrian air defenses in preparation of further U.S. airstrikes.
Moscow condemned the strikes as “Trumped-up.”
Then-President Barack Obama in the summer of 2013 warned Assad following a chemical weapons attack that killed nearly 1,500 Syrian civilians that “a red line” had been crossed and that U.S. military action was being considered.
The Administration did not act.