Pentagon says US strikes in Syria were aimed to deliver signal to Assad regime

WASHINGTON, April 14 (Reuters) - The United States said on Saturday it overwhelmed and evaded Syrian air defenses overnight to strike every target at the heart of Syria's chemical weapons program, in a multi-pronged attack from the air and sea alongside British and French allies.

Although the operation was secretly unfolding for hours before the first impact, it only took minutes from the first to the last detonation from 105 precision-guided missile strikes on three Syrian chemical weapons targets, officials said.

Marine Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, rejected assertions from Russia and Syria that scores of the Western missiles were shot down.

He said Russian air defenses did not fire, while Syrian air defenses were completely ineffective against an attack from multiple directions involving not just U.S., British and French aircraft but also U.S. naval destroyers, a cruiser and French frigate and even a U.S. submarine.

RELATED: Pentagon press briefing following U.S.-led strike on Syria

29 PHOTOS
Pentagon press briefing following US-led strike on Syria
See Gallery
Pentagon press briefing following US-led strike on Syria
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 14: Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White (L) and Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. (R), participate in a news briefing at the Pentagon April 14, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon held a briefing on the latest development of the strike in Syria. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 14: Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White (L) and Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. (R), participate in a news briefing at the Pentagon April 14, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon held a briefing on the latest development of the strike in Syria. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 14: Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon April 14, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon held a briefing on the latest development of the strike in Syria. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 14: Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White (L) and Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. (R), participate in a news briefing at the Pentagon April 14, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon held a briefing on the latest development of the strike in Syria. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 14: Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White (L) and Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. (R), participate in a news briefing at the Pentagon April 14, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon held a briefing on the latest development of the strike in Syria. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White (L) and Director, Joint Staff, US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., brief the press on the stikes against Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on April 14. 2018. The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria's regime had 'successfully hit every target,' countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White (L) and Director, Joint Staff, US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., brief the press on the stikes against Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on April 14. 2018. The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria's regime had 'successfully hit every target,' countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White (L) and Director, Joint Staff, US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., brief the press on the stikes against Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on April 14. 2018. The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria's regime had 'successfully hit every target,' countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Director, Joint Staff, US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., briefs the press on the stikes against Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on April 14. 2018. The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria's regime had 'successfully hit every target,' countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Director, Joint Staff, US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., briefs the press on the stikes against Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on April 14. 2018. The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria's regime had 'successfully hit every target,' countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Director, Joint Staff, US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., briefs the press on the stikes against Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on April 14. 2018. The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria's regime had 'successfully hit every target,' countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Director, Joint Staff, US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., briefs the press on the stikes against Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on April 14. 2018. The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria's regime had 'successfully hit every target,' countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White (L) and Director, Joint Staff, US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., brief the press on the stikes against Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on April 14. 2018. The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria's regime had 'successfully hit every target,' countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Director, Joint Staff, US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., briefs the press on the stikes against Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on April 14. 2018. The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria's regime had 'successfully hit every target,' countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White briefs the press on the stikes against Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on April 14. 2018. The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria's regime had 'successfully hit every target,' countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Director, Joint Staff, US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., briefs the press on the stikes against Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on April 14. 2018. The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria's regime had 'successfully hit every target,' countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Director, Joint Staff, US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., briefs the press on the stikes against Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on April 14. 2018. The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria's regime had 'successfully hit every target,' countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted. / AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB / ALTERNATIVE CROP (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Director, Joint Staff, US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., briefs the press on the stikes against Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on April 14. 2018. The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria's regime had 'successfully hit every target,' countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 14: Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon April 14, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon held a briefing on the latest development of the strike in Syria. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 14: Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon April 14, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon held a briefing on the latest development of the strike in Syria. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 14: U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. listens during a news briefing at the Pentagon April 14, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon held a briefing on the latest development of the strike in Syria. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 14: Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White (L) and Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. (R), leave after a news briefing at the Pentagon April 14, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon held a briefing on the latest development of the strike in Syria. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 14: U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon April 14, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon held a briefing on the latest development of the strike in Syria. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 14: U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon April 14, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon held a briefing on the latest development of the strike in Syria. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Director, Joint Staff, US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., briefs the press on the stikes against Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on April 14. 2018. The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria's regime had 'successfully hit every target,' countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 14: Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White (L) and Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. (R), participate in a news briefing at the Pentagon April 14, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon held a briefing on the latest development of the strike in Syria. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - APRIL 14: U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. listens during a news briefing at the Pentagon April 14, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon held a briefing on the latest development of the strike in Syria. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Director, Joint Staff, US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., shows a damage assesment image of the Him Shinshar Chemical Weapons bunker as he briefs the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on April 14. 2018. The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria's regime had 'successfully hit every target,' countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Director, Joint Staff, US Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., shows a damage assesment image of the Him Shinshar Chemical Weapons Storage site as he briefs the press on the stikes against Syria, at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on April 14. 2018. The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria's regime had 'successfully hit every target,' countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The Syrian air defenses not only missed the incoming missiles but they kept firing even after the last U.S., British and French strikes were complete. Some of those more than 40 Syrian missile interceptors, he suggested, might have hit civilian targets.

"When you shoot iron into the sky without guidance, it will inevitably fall to earth," McKenzie told reporters.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White warned that Russia was actively attempting to sow confusion about the attack.

"The Russian disinformation campaign has already begun. There has been a 2,000 percent increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours," White said.

The prime target of the operation was the Barza Research and Development Center in the greater Damascus area, which McKenzie noted was "one of the most heavily defended aerospace areas in the world."

Barza took the brunt of the fire, with 57 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 19 Joint Air to Surface Stand-off missiles.

Though some of Syria's chemical weapons infrastructure was still left, "I think we've dealt them a severe blow," McKenzie said, adding it would set the program back for years.

Despite severely damaging the infrastructure with the strikes, McKenzie said the Pentagon would not rule out that the Assad government still had capability to use such weapons again.

"There's still a residual element of the Syrian program that's out there," he said.

"I'm not going to say that they're going to be unable to continue to conduct a chemical attack in the future. I suspect, however, they'll think long and hard about it." (Reporting by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Doina Chiacu; writing by Jeff Mason; Editing by David Gregor

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.