tv Pentagon Briefing on Syria Strikes CSPAN April 14, 2018 2:05am-2:30am EDT
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. together we have sent a clear message to assad and his murderous lieutenants that they cannot perpetrate another chemical weapons attack. they will be held accountable. we remain committed. 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 these a strikes are directed at the syrian regime. we have gone to great lengths to prevent civilian casualties. it is a time for all civilized nations to urgently tonight in ending the syrian civil war by supporting the united nations. in accordance to the convention preventing 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 military update. gen. dunford: i am joined by [indiscernible] and 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, development, production, and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology. the second target was a chemical weapons storage facility west of homs. we assessed 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 attack on a single site, the focus on the chemical
weapons attack of april of 2017. this evening 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. right now, this is a one-time shot and i believe 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? how long do you think this operation would last? is it a matter of hours or days or could it go longer than that? gen. dunford: we did have initial surface activity from the syrian regime, that is the only retaliatory action we are aware of at this time. the nature of the operation, we completed targets that were assigned from u.s. central command. those operations are complete. reporter: general dunford and secretary mattis, could you talk a little bit more about your concerns you expressed earlier 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 influence your decision to enter this coalition this evening. gen. dunford: let me address the last point first. our attaches were kind enough to join us tonight. they will not get out in front of their president and prime minister respectively. national messages will be provided from their capitols soon. does it identify these targets to mitigate the risk of russian forces being involved? we used our normal deconfliction channels. those were active this week to work through the air 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. at this point, do know what the chemical was used in that attack? was it sarin or chlorine?
what is your evidence delivered by the syrian regime? sec. mattis: say the last part again, tom? reporter: what is your evidence 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 russians ahead of time before the operation what you are going to do and what targets you would 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 deconfliction of the airspace, the procedures that are in place for all 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. the time on target was about an hour ago and we came straight appeared 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: 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 want to talk to you about the legal basis for this strike.
could you talk more about that? in your testimony the other day it sounded like you were saying a potential strike would be linked to self-defense and the presence of american forces in syria? can you say more about that? also, regarding whether there will be future action for additional strikes, you said they would depend on whether or not the government conducts 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 we are in close consultation with our allies. we reviewed all of the evidence all the time. it is difficult as you know to get evidence out of syria, but right now we have no additional attacks planned. 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: what were the targeting difficulties or considerations going after chemical facilities? how long did the operation take to plan? last year's strikes were described as proportional, moderate. how would you describe this year's, 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. obviously, when we take a look at target planning 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. 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. when did you become confident that the chemical attack had been? 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? 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 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. reporter: what was their response? 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. we did not select those that had a high risk of collateral damage and specifically a high rate of civilian casualties. the modeling was done to make sure 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 based on the significance to the chemical weapons as well as the location and 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 decision -- a concern about escalation with russia, did that affect your decision to keep this more targeted? 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 integrated 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. 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. 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.
>> british prime minister theresa may issued a statement friday night that reads in part, this evening i authorized british armed forces to conduct strikes to degrade the chemical weapons capability and determine their use. we are working together with our american and french allies. attack killed 75 people. in circumstances of pure horror. the prime minister and french prime minister are expected to make further comments on the military action later on saturday.
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