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The US bombing of Syria, explained in 400 words

A short guide to America’s limited military response in Syria.

The US bombed Syria on Friday, April 13, 2018, in retaliation for the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons.
AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

The United States, along with Britain and France, bombed Syria on Friday night.

The decision to strike came one week after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against civilians outside Damascus, killing at least 42 adults and children. After that attack, President Donald Trump promised to exact a “big price” on the Assad regime.

The US and its allies deliberated a response over the following week. And then on Friday night, the countries hit three targets — including one on the outskirts of Damascus — all related to Syria’s chemical weapons program: a research center, a storage facility, and an equipment facility and command post.

The map of Syria below shows the targets hit on Friday:

Map of Syria and targets the US, Britain, and France hit on April 13.
Map of Syria and targets the US, Britain, and France hit on April 13.
Javier Zarracina/Vox

The strikes hit at the “very heart” of Syria’s chemical weapon program and dealt it a “serious blow,” Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters Saturday. McKenzie also noted Syria could reconstitute its program and the strikes didn’t take out all of Syria’s chemical weapons facilities, which means Assad could use chemical weapons on civilians again in the future.

Speaking from the White House Friday night, President Donald Trump said the US was “prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”

But soon after, Secretary of Defense James Mattis gave a different assessment. “Right now, this is a one-time shot, designed to set back the Syrian war machine’s ability to produce chemical weapons.”

Russia has warned of “consequences” after the attacks, with Russian President Vladimir Putin calling the strikes an “act of aggression” that could “have a destructive effect on the entire system of international relations.” Both Russia and Syria claimed on Saturday that “a significant number” of the missiles launched at Syria were shot down, although the Pentagon disputes that. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the strikes a “crime.”

No American troops were killed, according to the Pentagon, and as of now, the US does not know if there were any civilian casualties in Syria.

There are still broader concerns. First, the US strikes may not stop Assad from using chemical weapons, or turn the tide of seven-year civil war. Second, it’s possible Assad’s allies, mainly Russia and Iran, may retaliate against the approximately 2,000 US troops in Syria. And finally, it’s unclear if the US will bomb Syria again if Assad’s forces use chemical weapons once more.