US launches missiles at Syrian base after chemical weapons attack

The United States fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria overnight in response to what it believes was a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 100 people.

At least six people were killed, Syria claimed, but the Pentagon said civilians were not targeted and the strike was aimed at a military airfield in the western province of Homs.

The action completed a policy reversal for President Donald Trump — who once warned America to stay out of the conflict — and drew anger from Damascus and its main ally, Russia.

See devastating images from the attack:

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Syria gas attack
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Syria gas attack
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH A man carries the body of a dead child, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH People stand near a dead body, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
A man breathes through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatments, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
A man breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH Men stand near dead bodies, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A Syrian child receives treatment at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following an attack on April 4, 2017. A suspected chemical attack killed at least 58 civilians including several children in rebel-held northwestern Syria, a monitor said, with the opposition accusing the government and demanding a UN investigation. / AFP PHOTO / Omar haj kadour (Photo credit should read OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
A man holds an injured baby inside a Turkish ambulance as injured Syrian people enter into Turkey from the Cilvegozu border gate in Hatay province, near the Syrian border on April 4, 2017. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on April 4, 2017 condemned a suspected chemical attack in northwestern Syria as an 'inhuman' strike that could endanger peace talks based in the Kazakh capital. / AFP PHOTO / DOGAN NEWS AGENCY / - / Turkey OUT (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - APRIL 4: A wounded kid receives medical treatment at sahra hospital after Assad Regime forces's attack with chlorine gas to Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. (Photo by Abdulghani Arian/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - APRIL 4: A woman gets treatment at a hospital after Assad Regime forces attacked with suspected chlorine gas to Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. (Photo by Bahjat Najar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - APRIL 4: A child gets treatment at a hospital after Assad Regime forces attacked with suspected chlorine gas to Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. (Photo by Bahjat Najar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH A man carries the body of a dead child, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A crater is seen at the site of an airstrike, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Turkish officials with chemical clothes carry a injured man on April 4, 2017 in Hatay province, near the Syrian border. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on April 4, 2017 condemned a suspected chemical attack in northwestern Syria as an 'inhuman' strike that could endanger peace talks based in the Kazakh capital. / AFP PHOTO / DOGAN NEWS AGENCY / - / Turkey OUT (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Bodies lie in the parking area of a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic gas attack on April 4, 2017. A suspected chemical attack killed at least 58 civilians including several children in rebel-held northwestern Syria, a monitor said, with the opposition accusing the government and demanding a UN investigation. / AFP PHOTO / Omar haj kadour (Photo credit should read OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - APRIL 4: A child gets treatment at a hospital after Assad Regime forces attacked with suspected chlorine gas to Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. (Photo by Bahjat Najar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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The missiles were launched from the USS Ross and the USS Porter in the Mediterranean Sea toward Shayrat Airfield. American officials believe it was used by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad to carry out a strike on Tuesday involving chemical weapons that resulted in the deaths of more than 100 people.

"Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children," Trump said in remarks from Mar-a-Lago, his family compound in Palm Beach, Florida. "It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons."

The president also called on other countries to end the bloodshed in Syria.

Related: Trump: Why I Launched a Missile Attack on Syria

U.S. officials told NBC News that aircraft and infrastructure at the site were hit, including the runway and gas fuel pumps. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a spokesman for the Defense Department, said initial assessments showed that the airfield was severely damaged, reducing Syria's capability to deliver chemical weapons.

The strike provoked an angry response Russia, which is backing the Assad regime in its six-year civil war against a patchwork of rebel factions and other groups, including ISIS.

Both regime and rebel forces have committed repeated war crimes, according to a United Nations report last month, with airstrikes by Russian and Syrian jets in particular "claiming hundreds of lives and reducing hospitals, schools and markets to rubble."

Moscow, which said the Assad government has never had or used chemical weapons, said America was using Tuesday's deaths as a "pretext."

See reactions from the missile attack:

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Reaction to US airstrikes in Syria
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Reaction to US airstrikes in Syria

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers an statement about missile strikes on a Syrian airbase, at his Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

This action in Syria was appropriate and just. My full statement: https://t.co/oIlOT65zTC
.@POTUS's strikes in #Syria send impt msg US won't stand by as #Assad, aided by #Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians https://t.co/aWTeS9N7PK
I support stopping Assad's atrocities, but it's unnerving that Trump changed his position on striking Syria 180 degrees in only 24 hours.
So @POTUS cares enough about the Syrian people to launch 50 Tomahawks but not enough to let the victims of Assad find refuge & freedom here.
My statement in response to U.S. missile strikes in #Syria: https://t.co/8oL0QlpIeS
Statement with @SenJohnMcCain on military strikes in Syria. https://t.co/kSzaEBifhI
MY OFFICIAL STMT TONIGHT ON SYRIAN MISSILE ATTACK: https://t.co/KpVJF9bgao https://t.co/oI0rMp0Ib4
I guess Trump wasn't "Putin's puppet" after all, he was just another deep state/Neo-Con puppet. I'm officially OFF the Trump train.
.@POTUS "Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched." (1/2)
(2/2) It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread or use of deadly chemical weapons.
This is an act of war. Congress needs to come back into session & hold a debate. Anything less is an abdication of… https://t.co/YWWwxTFpcQ
While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked.
The President needs Congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution.
Today over 500,000 people have watched my videos and streams. 90% are @realDonaldTrump supporters, none want war with Syria. #NoMoreWars
Sen @ChrisCoons on #Syria airstrike: "The President’s actions today generate more questions than answers." https://t.co/SJUrusaCHS
The U.S. made clear tonight that the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians in Syria will not be tolerated.
My full statement on the US airstrikes in Syria: https://t.co/kjzYtr29s8
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Syria's military said the U.S. attack violated "all international laws and customs" and that it made America a "partner" of ISIS "and other terrorist organizations." It condemned the White House for acting "without knowing the truth about what occurred and without identifying those responsible" for the chemical attack.

However, Syrian armed rebel group, Ahrar Al Sham, told NBC News it welcomed "any U.S. intervention through surgical strikes that would deter the Assad regime capabilities to kill civilians and shorten the suffering of our people."

A White House official said more than two dozen members of Congress were briefed by administration officials on the missile strike. Vice President Mike Pence returned to the White House after having gone home for dinner Thursday evening and monitored the events from the Situation Room, officials said.

Trump is in Florida for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinpeng. Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster traveled to Florida with him.

"We feel that the strike itself was proportional, because it was targeted at the facility that delivered this most recent chemical weapons attack," Tillerson told reporters.

"There was a thorough examination of a wide range of options, and I think the president made the correct choice and made the correct decision," Tillerson said.

Related: Rebel Forces, Some in Congress Praise Strike on Syrian Airfield

Tillerson and Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., have bluntly blamed Syria for the chemical weapons attack, whose victims included at least 25 children.

"We have a very high level of confidence that the attacks were carried out by aircraft under the direction of Bashar al-Assad's regime, and we also have very high confidence that the attacks involved the use of sarin nerve gas," Tillerson said.

Images from the missiles launched:

17 PHOTOS
US airstrikes in Syria -- launches and impact
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US airstrikes in Syria -- launches and impact

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile in Mediterranean Sea on April 7, 2017.

(Robert S. Price/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS)

Battle damage assessment image of Shayrat Airfield, Syria, is seen in this DigitalGlobe satellite image, released by the Pentagon following U.S. Tomahawk Land Attack Missile strikes from Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, the USS Ross and USS Porter on April 7, 2017.

(DigitalGlobe/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense/Handout via REUTERS)

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile in Mediterranean Sea on April 7, 2017.

(Robert S. Price/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS)

Shayrat Airfield in Homs, Syria is seen in this DigitalGlobe satellite image released by the U.S. Defense Department on April 6, 2017 after announcing U.S. forces conducted a cruise missile strike against the Syrian Air Force airfield. DigitalGlobe/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. MANDATORY CREDIT.

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile in Mediterranean Sea on April 7, 2017.

(Robert S. Price/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS)

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile in Mediterranean Sea on April 7, 2017.

(Robert S. Price/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS)

Shayrat Airfield in Homs, Syria is seen in this DigitalGlobe satellite image on February 18, 2017 and released by the U.S. Defense Department on April 6, 2017 after announcing U.S. forces conducted a cruise missile strike against the Syrian Air Force airfield. 

(DigitalGlobe/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense/Handout via REUTERS)

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017.

(Ford Williams/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS)

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. Porter, forward-deployed to Rota, Spain, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/Released)

Battle damage assessment image of Shayrat Airfield, Syria, is seen in this DigitalGlobe satellite image, released by the Pentagon following U.S. Tomahawk Land Attack Missile strikes from Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, the USS Ross and USS Porter on April 7, 2017. 

(DigitalGlobe/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense/Handout via REUTERS)

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017.

(Ford Williams/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTER)

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017.

(Ford Williams/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS)

Battle damage assessment image of Shayrat Airfield, Syria, is seen in this DigitalGlobe satellite image, released by the Pentagon following U.S. Tomahawk Land Attack Missile strikes from Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, the USS Ross and USS Porter on April 7, 2017. 

(DigitalGlobe/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense/Handout via REUTERS)

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017.

(Ford Williams/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS)

Syrian shepherds tend their flock near the damaged Shayrat ('ash-Shairat') airfield at the Syrian government forces military base targeted earlier overnight by US Tomahawk cruise missiles, southeast of the central and third largest Syrian city of Homs, on April 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on April 7, 2017 shows a view of the damaged Shayrat ('ash-Shairat') airfield at the Syrian government forces military base targeted earlier overnight by US Tomahawk cruise missiles, southeast of the central and third largest Syrian city of Homs. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
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He said there were no executive-level communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the missile strike but confirmed U.S. officials had "multiple conversations" with the Russian government in accordance with military "deconfliction" agreements.

Photos: Rescuers Treat Dozens in Syria Chemical Attack

The unilateral action came after American Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday: "When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action."

Her speech came a week after she told the U.N. that removing Assad from power was no longer America's priority.

McMaster said the missile strike wouldn't have wiped out Assad's "capacity to commit mass murder with chemical weapons." But he said: "This was not a small strike. I mean, it was not a small strike. And I think what it does communicate is a big shift in Assad's calculus — it should be, anyway."

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