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News Story
Updated: 04/16/2018 01:19:00AM

Trump defends ‘mission accomplished’ after strike on Syria

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This image provided by the Department of Defense was presented as part of a briefing slide at the Pentagon briefing on Saturday, April 14, 2018, and shows a photo of a preliminary damage assessment from the Him Shinshar Chemical Weapons Storage Site in Syria that was struck by missiles from the U.S.-led coalition in response to Syria's use of chemical weapons on April 7. (Department of Defense via AP)

In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) fires a Tomahawk land attack missile early Saturday, April 14, 2018, as part of the military response to Syria's use of chemical weapons on April 7. The United States, France and Britain launched military strikes in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad for an apparent chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again. (Lt. j.g. Matthew Daniels/U.S. Navy via AP)

This image provided by the Department of Defense was presented as part of a briefing slide at the Pentagon briefing on Saturday, April 14, 2018, and shows a photo of a preliminary damage assessment from the Him Shinshar Chemical Weapons Bunker in Syria that was struck by missiles from the U.S.-led coalition in response to Syria's use of chemical weapons on April 7. (Department of Defense via AP)

This image provided by the Department of Defense was presented as part of a briefing slide at the Pentagon briefing on Saturday, April 14, 2018, and shows a photo of a preliminary damage assessment from the Barzah Research and Development Center in Syria that was struck by missiles from the U.S.-led coalition in response to Syria's use of chemical weapons on April 7. (Department of Defense via AP)

British Ambassador to the United Nations Karen Pierce, left and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley share a note during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria, Saturday, April 14, 2018 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Firefighrers extinguish smoke that rises from the damage of the Syrian Scientific Research Center which was attacked by U.S., British and French military strikes to punish President Bashar Assad for suspected chemical attack against civilians, in Barzeh, near Damascus, Syria, Saturday, April 14, 2018. The Pentagon says none of the missiles filed by the U.S. and its allies was deflected by Syrian air defenses, rebutting claims by the Russian and Syrian governments. Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, also says there also is no indication that Russian air defense systems were employed early Saturday in Syria. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., director, Joint Staff, speaks as he shows photographs from before and after the U.S.-led airstrikes against Syria during a media availability at the Pentagon, Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria, Saturday, April 14, 2018 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

A Syrian soldier films the damage of the Syrian Scientific Research Center which was attacked by U.S., British and French military strikes to punish President Bashar Assad for suspected chemical attack against civilians, in Barzeh, near Damascus, Syria, Saturday, April 14, 2018. The Pentagon says none of the missiles filed by the U.S. and its allies was deflected by Syrian air defenses, rebutting claims by the Russian and Syrian governments. Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, also says there also is no indication that Russian air defense systems were employed early Saturday in Syria. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May gestures during a press conference in 10 Downing Street, London, Saturday, April 14, 2018. British Prime Minister Theresa May says the need to act quickly and protect “operational security” led her to strike Syria without a prior vote in Parliament. (Simon Dawson/Pool Photo via AP)

Pentagon chief spokesperson Dana W. White speaks during a media availability at the Pentagon, Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, June 15, 2017, during an event on Apprenticeship and Workforce of Tomorrow initiatives. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

By HOPE YEN and ROBERT BURNS

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday defended his use of the phrase “Mission Accomplished” to describe a U.S.-led missile attack on Syria’s chemical weapons program, even as his aides stressed continuing U.S. troop involvement and plans for new economic sanctions against Russia for enabling the regime of Bashar Assad.

Stepping up the pressure on Syria’s president, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley indicated the sanctions to be announced Monday would be aimed at sending a message to Russia, which she said has blocked six attempts by the U.N. Security Council to make it easier to investigate the use of chemical weapons.

“Everyone is going to feel it at this point,” Haley said, warning of consequences for Assad’s foreign allies.

“The international community will not allow chemical weapons to come back into our everyday life,” she said. “The fact he was making this more normal and that Russia was covering this up, all that has got to stop.”

In an early-morning tweet, Trump said the strike was “perfectly carried out” and that “the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term “Mission Accomplished.” He added that he knew the media would “seize” on the phrase, but said it should be used often. “It is such a great Military term, it should be brought back,” he wrote.

Trump tweeted “Mission Accomplished” on Saturday after U.S., French and British warplanes and ships launched more than 100 missiles nearly unopposed by Syrian air defenses. While he declared success, the Pentagon said the pummeling of three chemical-related facilities left enough others intact to enable the Assad government to use banned weapons against civilians if it chooses.

His choice of words recalled a similar claim associated with President George W. Bush following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Bush addressed sailors aboard a Navy ship in May 2003 alongside a “Mission Accomplished” banner, just weeks before it became apparent that Iraqis had organized an insurgency that would tie down U.S. forces for years.

On Sunday, Haley made clear the United States won’t be pulling troops out of Syria right away, saying U.S. involvement there “is not done.”

Haley said the three U.S. goals for accomplishing its mission are making sure chemical weapons are not used in a way that could harm U.S. national interests; that the Islamic State group is defeated; and that there is a good vantage point to watch what Iran is doing.

“We’re not going to leave until we know we’ve accomplished those things,” she said.

Haley said the joint military strike “put a heavy blow into their chemical weapons program, setting them back years” and reiterated that if Assad uses poison gas again, “the United States is locked and loaded.”

The nighttime assault was carefully limited to minimize civilian casualties and avoid direct conflict with Russia in Syria, but confusion arose over the extent to which Washington warned Moscow in advance. The Pentagon said it gave no explicit warning. The U.S. ambassador in Moscow, John Huntsman, said in a video, “Before we took action, the United States communicated with” Russia to “reduce the danger of any Russian or civilian casualties.”

Russia has military forces, including air defenses, in several areas of Syria to support Assad in his long war against anti-government rebels.

Russia and Iran called the use of force by the United States and its French and British allies a “military crime” and “act of aggression.” The U.N. Security Council met to debate the strikes, but rejected a Russian resolution calling for condemnation of the “aggression” by the three Western allies.


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