tv Pentagon Briefing on Syria Strikes CSPAN April 14, 2018 12:38am-1:02am EDT
their righteous power against barbarism and brutality. tonight i ask all americans to say a prayer for our noble warriors and our allies as they carry out their missions. we pray that god will bring comfort to those suffering in syria. we pray that god will guide the whole region toward a future of dignity and of peace and we pray that god will continue to watch over and bless the united states of america. thank you and good night. thank you. shortly after the president's statement, defense secretary james mattis, joined the chief to answerair reporters questions at the pentagon. this is 20 minutes.
sec. mattis: earlier today president trump directed the u.s. military with our allies to destroy the syrian weapons capabilities. tonight, france, united kingdom and united states took action to end the chemical weapons infrastructure. clearly, the assad regime did not get the message last year. this time, our allies and we have struck harder. together, we have sent a clear message to assad and his murderous lieutenants that they cannot perpetrate another weapons attacks, for which they will be held accountable. we remain committed. to defeating isis. the strike tonight separately demonstrates international resolve to prevent chemical weapons from being used on anyone under any circumstances in contradiction of international law.
i want to emphasize that these strikes are directed at the syrian regime and conducting them, we have gone to great lengths to prevent civilian casualties. it is a time for all civilized nations to urgently tonight in -- urgently unite in ending the syrian civil war by supporting the united nations in the peace process. in accordance with the chemical weapons convention prohibiting the use of such weapons, we urge responsibility to condemn the assad regime and join us in our firm resolve to prevent chemical weapons from being used again. general dunford will provide a military up date.
good even, i am joined by my french attache to my brigadier general our british attache. secretary mattis just outlined the policy and parameters in syria. in 9:00 p.m. eastern standard time, french, british and u.s. forces struck targets in syria and support a president trump's objective. our forces were integrated throughout the planning and execution of the operation. the targets that were struck and destroyed were specifically associated with the syrian regime's chemical weapons program. we also selected targets that would minimize the risk to innocent civilians. the first target was a scientific research center located in the greater damascus area. this military facility was a syrian center for research, andlopment, production testing of chemical and biological warfare technology. the second target was a chemical weapons storage facility west of houms. we assessed that this was the
primary location of syrian sarin and precursor production equipment. the third target contained both chemical weapons equipment storage facility and an important command post. u.s., british and french naval and air forces were involved in the operation. for reasons of operational security, i will not be more specific this evening. before we take questions, i would like to address how this evening's strike is qualitatively and quantitatively different from that of last year. last year we conducted a unilateral strike on a single site. the focus on the chemical attack of this evening april 2017. we conducted strikes with two allies on multiple sites that will result in a long-term degradation of syria's capability to research, develop and deploy biological weapons. important infrastructure was destroyed, which will result in a setback for the syrian regime. they will lose years of research and development data, specialized equipment, and expensive chemical weapons
precursors. the strike was not only a strong message to the regime that their actions were inexcusable, but it also inflicted maximum damage without unnecessary risk to innocent civilians. with that, the secretary and i would be happy to take your questions. reporter: mr. secretary, did the u.s. suffer any losses initially? and more broadly, the president in his remarks said the u.s. and its allies are prepared to sustain this operation until syria stops using chemical weapons. does that mean the u.s. and its partners will continue military operations beyond this operation tonight? sec. mattis: that will depend on mr. assad, should he decide to use more chemical weapons in the future. and of course, the powers that have signed the chemical weapons prohibition have every reason to challenge assad, should he
choose to violate that. but right now, this is a one-time shot, and i believe that it sends a very strong message to dissuade him, to deter him, from doing this again. reporter: [indiscernible] sec. mattis: we want to give you a full brief in the morning. right now we have no reports of losses. reporter: thank you for doing that. have you seen retaliation from the russians or iranians? and how long do you think this operation could last? is it a matter of hours or days or could it go longer than that? gen. dunford: we did have some initial surface-to-air missile activity from the syrian regime, that is the only retaliatory action we are aware of at this time. the nature of the operation, we
have completed the targets that were assigned by the united states central command. those operations are complete. reporter: general dunford and secretary mattis, could you talk a little bit more about your concerns in the week about russian escalation? general dunford, were you able to talk to your russian counterparts? what are your concerns about escalation? are you committed to ask your british counterpart a question? i would like to know the sense of your government about the situation with the skripals and how russian involvement in the back, how the russian involvement played a role in your decision to enter the coalition this evening. gen. dunford: let me address the last point first. our attaches were kind enough to join us this evening. they will not get out in front of their president and prime minister respectively. the national messages will be provided from their capitals very soon.
the russianto concerns, we specifically identified these targets to mitigate the risk of russian involved, and we used our normal deconstruction channels, those were active this week to work through the air and space issues and so forth -- airspace issues and so forth. we did not do any court nation with of the russians on the strikes, nor did we pre-notify them. reporter: secretary, a couple days you said you were assessing the intelligence on the suspected chemical weapons attack. so at this point, do you know what the chemical was that was used in the attack? was it sarin or chlorine? also, what is your evidence that it was actually delivered by the syrian regime? sec. mattis: say the last part again, tom? reporter: what is your evidence that the chemical weapons were delivered by the syrian regime? are you quite clear it was? sec. mattis: i am confident the syrian regime conducted a chemical attack on innocent people in this last week, yes, absolutely confident of it. we have the intelligence level of confidence we needed to conduct the attack.
reporter: as far as the actual chemical used, do know what it was? a nerve agent, chlorine? do you have a sense of what it was? sec. mattis: we are very much aware of one of the agents. there may have been more than one agent used. we are not clear on that yet. we know at least one chemical agent was used. reporter: to clarify on deconfliction, you notified the russians ahead of time before the operation what you were going to do, and what targets you were going to strike? gen. dunford: to be clear, the only communications that took place specifically associated with this operation before the targets were struck was the normal deconstruction of the airspace, the procedures in place for all reporter: general of our operations in syria. reporter: general dunford, you mentioned the syrian air defenses had engaged. the syrian state tv says they shot down 13 tomahawk missiles. can you refute that? gen. dunford: jennifer, i cannot
tell you the results. we literally, as you know, the time on target was about an hour ago. we came straight up here to give you the best information we have right now. tomorrow morning, we will get you a more detailed operational update in some of the details. those are not available to us right now. reporter: by the airstrikes are over? gen. dunford: this wave of airstrikes is over. that is why we are out here talking to you now. reporter: secretary mattis, i wanted to follow-up on what you said was the legal basis for this strike. could you talk more about that? in your testimony the other day it sounded like you were saying , that a potential strike would somehow be linked to self-defense and that the presence of american forces in syria -- can he say some more about that? also, regarding whether there will be future action for additional strikes or not, you said that it would depend on whether or not the assad government conducted future chemical attacks. can you explain a little more
about what would be the threshold for that. there were repeated chemical attacks between the april 2017 attack and today. would you consider a small-scale chlorine attack sufficient to launch additional strikes? sec. mattis: right now, i would tell you that we are in close consultation with our allies. we review all the evidence all the time. it is difficult as you know, to get evidence out of syria. right now, we have no additional attacks land. as far as the legal authority under article ii of the constitution, we believe the president has every reason to defend vital american interests, and that is what he did this evening, under that authority. reporter: a couple of questions for general done ford. what were some of the trumpeting considerations for going after chemical activities -- chemical facilities? how long did the operation take to plan?
last year's strikes were described as proportional, moderate. how would you describe this attack in contrast? gen. dunford: we chose these particular targets to mitigate the risk of civilian casualties, number one. we chose these targets because they were specifically associated with the chemical program, the syrian chemical program. and obviously, when you take a look at target planning and so forth, we take a look at the location relative to other populated areas collateral damage, proportionality. these targets were carefully selected with proportionality, discrimination, and being related to the chemical weapons program. reporter: were there any manned air craft? gen. dunford: there were manned aircraft involved and we won't give you any details until tomorrow morning. but we will do that at that time. reporter: question to secretary mattis. up until yesterday, i'm going to quote you here, you said, i cannot tell you that we have evidence.
so, when did you become confident that chemical attack had happened? sec. mattis: yesterday. reporter: after you said that? sec. mattis: yes. reporter: second, you talked about targeting the chemical weapons infrastructure of assad. if there were any chemical weapons or agents in those facilities that you targeted, i assume they would create health hazards in the region, or no? gen. dunford: we don't believe. we did very close analysis, as the chairman pointed out. we did everything we could in our intelligence assessment and our planning to minimize to the maximum degree possible any chance of civilian casualties. we are very much aware this is difficult to do in a situation like this, especially when the poison gas that assad assured the world he had gotten rid of obviously still exists.
it is a challenging problem set and we have the right military officers dealing with it. reporter: you could confirm there would be no leak into the air? gen. dunford: of course not, we will do our best. reporter: general dunford, when the surface to air sensors engaged, did they become a target? and did u.s. air power or other assets take out those targets? gen. dunford: i am not aware of any response. again, we will gather overnight, as you can imagine we try to leave united states central command alone tonight. they were quite busy. we will, through the night gather operational detail and be back in the morning to give that to you. reporter: last time, last year you changed the protection levels for the syrian troops. there are 2000 u.s. troops in syria. have you changed force protection levels based on responses from russia? gen. dunford: as you can imagine, the commander always takes prudent measures, especially in the environment they were in tonight. they did make adjustments. reporter: just to be clear on
the deconfliction line coming -- deconstruction line. you told them you would be operating in airspace, but you didn't tell the russians what the targets were? gen. dunford: that is absolutely correct. we used normal deconfliction channels to deconflict the airspace we were using. we did not coordinate targets or any planning with the russians. >> what was their response, sir? gen. dunford: that information was dispatched from qatar. that kind of information is passed routinely, every day and every night. they may not have found anything particularly unusual about that airspace deconfliction. reporter: can you talk a little bit about any iran target you initially considered and why you may not have gone for them? could your colleagues explain exactly the contribution you have made to tonight's operation?
sec. mattis: again, our allied officers are here out of respect for the fact they were part of the mission from planning all the way to the political decision taken. once their heads of state speak tomorrow, that will be the initial statement from those capitals. but, as far as any other targets, we looked at targets specifically designed to address the chemical threat we have seen manifested. the world watches in horror these weapons being used. those with only targets we were examining for prosecution. reporter: you mentioned three target areas that were struck. how can you be sure from now on these are all areas or all of the involved production facilities for chemical weapons the syrians are using? do you believe there are additional locations where they are producing such material?
gen. dunford: that is a great question, we had a number of targets to select from. and again, we did not select those that had a high risk of collateral damage, and specifically, a high rate of civilian casualties. airing was done and the modeling done, to make sure that we mitigated the risk of chemical weapons in those facilities, mitigate the risk of civilian casualties. there were other targets we looked at and we selected these specific targets based on the significance to the chemical weapons, as well as the location and the layout. reporter: secretary mattis, it seems like this strike tonight was pretty limited, not too dissimilar from last year. those three targets this time instead of one, but it still seems a little bit more targeted and specific than what a lot of people were expecting. can you walk us through your concern about escalation with
russia, did it affect your decision to keep this more targeted? and moving from there, how much assurance can you give us that this is going to do what the strike last year did not do, which was to stop president assad from using chemical weapons again? sec. mattis: nothing is certain in these kinds of matters. however, we used a little over double the number of weapons this year than we used last year. it was done on targets that we believed were selected to hurt the chemical weapons program. we confined it to the chemical weapons type targets. we were not out to expand this. we were very precise and proportionate, but at the same time, it was a heavy strike. reporter: mr. secretary, prior to the attack, how important was it to get the support from the allies? not only from an intelligence point of view, but from the countries themselves? sec. mattis: it is always important that we act
internationally in a unified way over something, especially that is such an atrocity as this. that we have observed going on in syria. i would also tell you that these allies, the americans, the french, the british, we have operated together through thick and thin, through good times and bad. this is a very, very well -intergrated team. wherever we operate, we do so with complete trust in each other, the professionalism, and more than that, the belief the other will be there when the chips are down. so, it is important and it is a statement about the level of trust between our nations. reporter: general dunford, were the syrians able to hide all these chemical weapons the last several days, there has been talk, did it give the syrians time to move them off-limits? secretary mattis, to confirm earlier when you are saying you
had information about one of the chemicals. we are all assuming that means chlorine, not necessarily sarin, if you could clarify that part. gen. dunford: i am not aware of any specific actions the syrians took to move chemical weapons in the last couple days. sec. mattis: we are very confident that chlorine was used. we are not ruling out sarin right now. reporter: i would like to follow-up on the question about the targets that you first examined and then triaged down to three tonight. it sounds like you went after facilities and not the weapons, as indicated earlier, to minimize accidental risk to civilians. in the targets that remain, would you characterize perhaps the ability to pursue it, to ramp it up again and again have chemical weapons? gen. dunford: i think it is too
early to make that assessment right now. reporter: general dunford, did any russian defenses engage u.s., british or french ships or missiles? secretary mattis, were any of the strikes intended to kill bashar al-assad? gen. dunford: the only reaction that i am aware of of this time was syrian surface air missiles. i was at the military command center and was aware of that activity. i am not aware of any russian activity. i am not aware of the full scope of the syrian regime response at this time. those are details we will pull together for you in the morning. sec. mattis: the targets tonight again, were specifically designed to degrade the syrian war machine's ability to create chemical weapons and to set that back. there were no attempts to broaden or expand that target set. ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming in this evening. based on recent experience, we fully expect a significant disinformation campaign over the coming days by those who have aligned themselves with the assad regime.
in an effort to maintain transparency and accuracy, my assistant for public affairs, ms. dana white and lieutenant general mckenzie, the director of the joint staff. here in washington, they will provide a brief of known details tomorrow morning. we anticipate at about 9:00 in this same location. thank you again for coming in this evening, ladies and gentlemen.
you'll will be able to join the conversation on face book and twitter, live at 7 a.m. eastern here on c-span. fromcome at reaction viewers from earlier, after the president. we are going to move on. try for karen, columbus, ohio, independent. caller: thank you for accepting my call this evening. i want to tell you i was really impressed with president trump having the backbone to represent our country and we will be praying for our troops. we are so proud of him. we hope he will unite our country. we can all together and maybe see eye to eye a little bit. this is a wonderful thing he is doing and i am impressed with him.