Pentagon Officials Describe Syria Strikes, Hope Assad Gets Message
By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity
Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the Joint Staff director, briefed the press today from the Pentagon on the operation saying it was successful and that there were no allied casualties.
White said the attack on innocent civilians in Douma “demanded a response,” and the allies targeted the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons infrastructure. “We launched these strikes to limit Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons in the future,” she said.
Operation Carefully Planned
The operation was carefully orchestrated and methodically planned to lessen chances of civilian casualties, the spokesperson said. The missiles hit targets during the Syrian pre-dawn hours, and planners, weaponeers and aircrew were careful to ensure little collateral damage. “We successfully hit every target,” White said.
Missiles hit three distinct military chemical weapons targets. “The three facilities are – or more appropriately, were – the fundamental components of the regime’s chemical weapons warfare infrastructure,” McKenzie said.
One target, the Barzah center, housed the regime’s research, development and production center for chemical and biological weapons. Photos taken after the strike show that where once three buildings stood, there is now nothing but rubble.
Strikes also hit a chemical weapons storage facility and a chemical bunker facility. “We selected these targets carefully to minimize the risk to innocent civilians,” the general said.
“We are still conducting a more detailed damage assessment, but initial indications are that we accomplished our military objectives without material interference. I would use three words to describe the operation: Precise, overwhelming and effective,” he said.
Allies Fired 105 Weapons
The allies fired 105 weapons at these targets. The missiles came from British, French and American platforms in the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean, McKenzie said.
“All weapons hit their targets close to the designated time on target,” he said. The American ships were: the USS Monterrey, the USS Laboon, the USS Higgins and the submarine USS John Warner. Two B-1 Lancer bombers launched joint air-to-surface stand-off missiles. Support aircraft – tankers, fighters, electronic warfare aircraft and more – also participated.
“None of our aircraft or missiles involved in this operation were successfully engaged by Syrian air defenses,” McKenzie said. “We have no indication that Russian air defenses were employed.”
Syrian response was ineffectual as the Syrians launched surface-to-air missiles on a ballistic trajectory. “Most of the launches occurred after our strike was over,” the general said. “When you shoot iron into the air without guidance, it has to come down somewhere.”
Since the strike, U.S. officials have not seen any military response from actors within Syria. “We remain postured to protect our forces and those of the coalition should anything occur,” the general said.
Department of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White and Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. in the Pentagon Briefing Room
Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White; Joint Staff Director Lieutenant General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr.
April 14, 2018
DANA WHITE: Good morning, everyone.
Q: Good morning.
Q: Happy Saturday.
MS. WHITE: Happy Saturday.
I want to start by making one point clear. The use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world is an inexcusable violation of international law. And the United States will not tolerate it.
The Assad regime’s attack against innocent Syrians in Douma, Syria, on April 7th is horrifying and tragic, and it demanded an immediate response.
Yesterday, United States forces at the direction of President Trump launched precision strikes against Assad regime targets associated with the use of chemical weapons in Syria. We launched these strikes to cripple Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons in the future.
We were joined by the United Kingdom and France, who demonstrated solidarity in addressing these atrocities.
Americans are united in condemning Syria’s inexcusable use of chemical weapons which no civilized nation would tolerate.
We are encouraged by the support we received from the senators and congressmen on both sides of the aisle.
We are also extremely proud of the United States service members who carried out this operation last night. They demonstrated unwavering courage and commitment in their defense of the American people and the values and ideals our nation represents.
This operation was carefully orchestrated and methodically planned to minimize potential collateral damage. I can assure you we took every measure and precaution to strike only what we targeted, and what we success — and we successfully hit every target.
This operation does not represent a change in U.S. policy, nor an attempt to depose the Syrian regime. The strikes were justified, legitimate and proportionate response to the Syrian regime’s continued use of chemical weapons on its own people.
We do not seek conflict in Syria, but we cannot allow such grievous violations of international law.
Our goal in Syria remains defeating ISIS, by, with and through the 70-nation coalition.
But we will not stand by passively while Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, ignores international law.
The Assad regime’s actions in April 2017 and again on April 7th, 2018, show they have abandoned their commitments to the international community, and resorted to illegal tactics against the innocent Syrian people.
We call upon Russia to honor its commitment to ensure the Assad regime dismantles its chemical weapons program and never uses chemical weapons again.
We support our diplomats who are working to set the conditions for the United Nations-backed Geneva process to succeed, and we look forward to working with the United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, in an effort to maintain transparency.
General McKenzie will provide a detailed overview of the actual operations.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL KENNETH F. MCKENZIE JR.: Thanks. Thanks, Dana. Ladies and gentleman, good morning.
I’m going to spend the next couple of minutes just talking about the military details of the strikes that we executed last night.
Could I get the first graphic up, please?
As you’ve heard from the president of the United States and directly in this room from Secretary Mattis and Chairman Dunford, the United States, the United Kingdom and France, three of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, conducted a proportional, precision, coordinated strike in response to the Syrian regime’s continued use of chemical weapons.
This combined military strike was directed against three distinct Syrian chemical weapons program targets. And I’m going to show them to you in turn on the monitor behind me, and I think you have access to that information also.
The three facilities are — or more appropriately now were fundamental components of the regime’s chemical weapons warfare infrastructure.
Let’s go to the first slide, please.
The Barzeh Research and Development Center.
Pardon me — the Him Shinshar chemical weapons storage facility.
And last — and the next slide please — the Him Shinshar chemical weapons bunker facility, which is located about seven kilometers from the previous Him Shinshar site.
This site aimed to deliver a clear, unambiguous message to the Syrian regime that their use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians is inexcusable, and to deter any future use of chemical weapons.
We selected these targets carefully to minimize the risk to innocent civilians.
We’re still conducting a more detailed damage assessment, but initial indications are that we accomplished our military objectives without material interference from Syria.
I’d use three words to describe this operation — precise, overwhelming and effective.
Let’s go back to the first Barzeh slide, please.
Against the first target, the Barzeh Research and Development Center, which is located in the greater Damascus area, we employed 76 missiles; 57 of these were Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles, and 19 were joint air-to-surface standoff missiles, or JASS’s.
As you can see for yourself from the graphics, initial assessments are that this target was destroyed. This is going to set the Syrian chemical weapons program back for years.
We also note that we’ve successfully destroyed three buildings in metropolitan Damascus, one of the most heavily defended airspace areas in the world.
Next slide, please.
Against the second target, the Him Shinshar chemical weapons storage facility, which is located in Syria, just west of Homs, 22 weapons were employed, nine U.S. TLAMs, eight Storm Shadow missiles, three naval cruise missiles, and two Scout land attack cruise missiles.
So this target was attacked by all coalition forces — our Tomahawks, the British Storm Shadow, and then the French missiles went against it as well.
Against the third target — next slide — the Him Shinshar chemical weapons bunker facility, we deployed seven Scout missiles. Again, the initial assessment is that this bunker facility was successfully hit.
I’d now just like to talk a minute about the specific platforms that were part of this strike, and let’s go back to the first slide, please. The missiles that I’ve just described were delivered from British, French and U.S. air and naval platforms in the Red Sea, the Northern Arabian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean. All weapons hit their targets at very close to the designated time on target, of about 4:00 a.m. in Syria, which of course is 9:00 here on the East Coast.
I’m going to give you a little more details about the platforms. First, in the Red Sea, the Ticonderoga-class, Monterey, fired 30 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles. And the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Laboon fired seven Tomahawks.
In the North Arabian Gulf, the Burke-class destroy Higgins fired 23 Tomahawks.
In the Eastern Mediterranean the French Frigate Languedoc fired three missiles of their naval version of the SCAT missile.
Also in the Mediterranean, the Virginia-class submarine John Warner fired six Tomahawk missiles.
In the air, two B-1 Lancer bombers fired 19 joint air-to-surface standoff missiles.
In addition, our British allies flew a combination of Tornadoes and Typhoons, and launched eight Storm Shadow missiles.
Our French allies flew a combination of Rafales and Mirages, and launched nine Scout missiles.
Taken together, and as you can see from the graphic behind me, these attacks on multiple axes were able to overwhelm the Syrian air-defense system.
It’s also important to note that we flew a variety of defensive counterair, tanker, and electronic warfare aircraft in support of these operations.
None of our aircraft or missiles involved in this operation were successfully engaged by Syrian air defenses, and we have no indication that Russian air-defense systems were employed.
We are confident that all of our missiles reached their targets. At the end of the strike mission, all our aircraft safely returned to their bases.
We assessed that over 40 surface-to-air missiles were employed by the Syrian regime. Most of these launches occurred after the last impact of our strike was over. It is likely that the regime shot many of these missiles on a ballistic trajectory. I mean, by that, without guidance. And we assess that the defensive efforts of Syria were largely ineffective, and clearly increased risk to their people based on this indiscriminate response. When you shoot iron into the air without guidance, it’s going to come down somewhere.
By contrast, the precise nature of our strike and the care which our allied team planned and executed significantly reduced the risk of collateral damage to civilians.
In summary, in a powerful show of allied unity, we deployed 105 weapons against three targets. That will significantly impact the Syrian regime’s ability to develop, deploy and use chemical weapons in the future.
It’s been said before, but I want to emphasize again, that by comparison, this strike was double the size of the last strike in April 2017. And I’d also emphasize that this strike was a multinational effort. The precision strike was executed with France and the U.K., demonstrating our unquestionable resolve.
I’d like to close by noting that since the strike, we have not seen any military response from actors within Syria. And we remain postured to protect our forces and those of the coalition should anything occur.
Dana, back to you.
MS. WHITE: So with that, we’ll take your questions.
Q: Thank you. General McKenzie, you said that you assessed initially that the attack cumulatively set back the Syrian chemical weapons program for years. Can you be — can you elaborate on that? Ms. White said that it was intended to cripple it. Can you be more…
GEN. MCKENZIE: I think we — well, as of right now, we’re not aware of — I’ll answer that part first. As of now we’re not aware of any civilian casualties now.
We’ll — you know, I would also note, as I said in my prepared remarks, the Syrians shot 40 large missiles into the air last night. Those missiles came down somewhere. And so we should recognize that’s a part of this — that’s a part of this equation, too.
But we don’t — right now, we have no reporting of any civilian casualties against any of the targets that we struck, and we’ll continue to look at this closely as we go ahead.
So very briefly, the first part of your question, particularly the Barzeh facility, is a core site for them. And as you can see from the graphic it does not exist anymore. And we believe that’s going to — they’ve lost a lot of equipment. They’ve lost a lot of material. And it’s going to have a significant effect on them. So I think the words “cripple” and “degrade” are good, accurate words.
MS. WHITE: Tom?
Q: Secretary Mattis said last night he was pretty convinced that chlorine was used. He’s still waiting on sarin. He also said he was confident that the Syrian regime mounted these chemical attacks. What evidence do you have of both, of chlorine and of the Syrian attack?
And also the OPCW is on the ground now. They are collecting information on that.
MS. WHITE: We are still assessing, but as the secretary said last night, he is confident of the evidence that we already had, and which is why he recommended this — the strikes last night. But we are still assessing and getting details, and we’ll — we can provide more details once we have them.
Q: Can you give us a sense of what evidence you do have?
MS. WHITE: Various — there’s various intel, and I won’t speak to that. But when we have more evidence and details, I will — I will come back to you, Tom.
Q: For both of you. First, General McKenzie, could you speak about, in Barzeh and these other facilities, were there actually — are you convinced there were chemical agents inside at the time of the strike? And how did you mitigate not having the dispersal of a chemical agent cloud?
And, Dana, you know, yesterday the president talked about the possibility of a sustained response. And the secretary last night spoke about this being a single strike at this time. Could you help people understand, is there a difference there? What are they both talking about? But for both of you, please.
GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure. I’ll start, Barbara.
So as we look at each of these targets, we have a variety of sophisticated models — plume analysis, other things, to calculate the possible effects of chemical or nerve agent being in there.
In relation to the Barzeh target, yes, we assessed that there were probably some chemical and nerve agents in that target. However, we believed that by the way we attacked it, the attack profile that we used, the way our weaponeers looked at it, we were able to minimize that. And so I’d just leave it at that.
You’ll be able to judge over the next few hours the results of that. But we believe that we successfully mitigated against the fact there are illegal and unauthorized weapons at these sites.
Q: Just to interrupt very briefly, are you doing any post-attack air sampling to see if there was any dispersal?
GEN. MCKENZIE: We look at the target through a variety of means.
Q: OK. Dana?
MS. WHITE: And with respect to his comment, I think the operative word is — the words were “at this time.” What happened going forward has everything to do with the Assad regime. We sent a very clear message last night, and we hope that he heard it.
Q: General McKenzie, have you had any contacts with the Russians through the deconfliction lines in the aftermath of these operations, or are you planning to have such contacts in the next few hours?
GEN. MCKENZIE: As you know, the deconfliction channel which we use between we and the Russians is — has operated frequently over the past few months. It continued to operate frequently leading up to this strike and a routine basis after the strike.
MS. WHITE: Hans?
Q: General McKenzie, the three targets that you struck, were those manufacturing or researching chlorine or sarin?
GEN. MCKENZIE: A little of both. And particularly in the Barzeh target, but there’s a little of both.
Q: And do you — do any of these facilities have any other nonmilitary application?
GEN. MCKENZIE: No, they’re essentially — that’s just what they do principally. There may be other activities that are carried on there, but this is the core activity associated with these sites.
MS. WHITE: Phil?
Q: You said that none of the — the Russian air defenses were not turned on. How do you explain that? Was there an agreement…
GEN. MCKENZIE: I’m sorry, I didn’t say the Russian air defenses were turned — were not turned on. I said they weren’t employed.
Q: Weren’t employed — I’m sorry. Was there an agreement with Russia they would not employ their air defenses?
And then also you said the Syrian air defenses did not have any significant impact on the operations. Is that to say that there was no interception of any of these missiles that were fired?
GEN. MCKENZIE: So we did no coordination, no agreements with the Russians before the strikes, important to know that. We deconflict. We do nothing more than that.
And I want say that to the best of our ability to determine at this time, no Syrian weapon had any effect on anything that we did.
MS. WHITE: Tara?
Q: Thank you. Dana, for you, last year when a similar-type strike occurred, there was an assessment that it degraded Syria’s ability to generate chemical weapons. Yet a couple months later the Pentagon thought that that specific airfield was right back at it. What assurances do you have now that you have significantly degraded Syria’s ability to generate chemical weapons?
And then for General McKenzie, that slide appears that the B-1s were escorted by U.S. fighters. Could you tell us who escorted the B-1s, and what type of surface-to-air missiles were shot out in the air, the 40?
And then getting back to the Russian defenses, if their defenses weren’t employed, were the — were Russian radars at all employed? Were they pinging any of the U.S. aircraft?
MS. WHITE: So I’ll take the first one. Last year the focus was on the delivery. This time, we went — the strikes went to the very heart of the enterprise, to the research, to development, to storage. So we are very confident that we have significantly crippled Assad’s ability to produce these weapons.
Q: Can I follow up?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Let me just answer.
MS. WHITE: I got you.
GEN. MCKENZIE: So the B-1s employed the JASSM, our joint-standoff missile. So that was the weapon that they used. B-1s were accompanied by U.S. fighters up to the launch-and-release point, as a normal way you’d integrate an air package, to provide protection to the bombers. Just as the French and British aircraft were accompanied by their own fighters as part of an integrated package that provides defense for the shooters.
Additionally, we positioned defensive counter-air around the theater. And in fact that’s still operational right now, as we observe the potential Syrian response.
Q: Were the escorts Raptors?
GEN. MCKENZIE: I don’t know the answer to that question, but we’ll get back to you. I just don’t that.
MS. WHITE: David, go ahead.
Q: There were reports that these — that these facilities — there were reports today that these facilities had been evacuated in the days prior to yesterday’s strike. Do you have any indication, either of you, that that’s the case? And wouldn’t that, to some degree, degrade your assessment of the damage that’s been done to the regime?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure, the Syrian regime knows that we’ve been looking at these targets for a long time. So it is possible — it’s possible that there might — some people might have left it.
We also chose to strike it as 3:00 in the morning, 4:00 in the morning local time, so we weren’t trying to kill a lot of people on the objective, and so we struck at a different time of the day.
I believe, however, that there’s material and equipment associated with each of these sites that was not movable. And that’s the source of the — that’s what really sets them back.
And to go back to an earlier question, that’s really the difference between striking an airfield and essentially a delivery platform and a research development and generation part of the facility. This is far more damaging to Syria.
MS. WHITE: Michael?
Q: General McKenzie, were the three targets that were struck, does this represent the totality of Syria’s known C.W. infrastructure or were there C.W. structures that were — that you didn’t hit because of collateral damage concerns?
Second, is chlorine the new red line? Because the administration monitored the use of chlorine for many months and didn’t take any action, and it seems to have only taken action because a nerve agent appears to have been used.
And this is the last weapons question — was the JASSM used, an extended-range JASSM, or just the first-generation JASSM?
GEN. MCKENZIE: So let me — in terms of the targeting, as we’ve selected targets, obviously the Syrian chemical weapons system is larger than the three targets that we addressed tonight.
However, these are the targets that presented the best opportunity to minimize collateral damage, to avoid killing innocent civilians, and yet to send a very strong message.
We could have gone to other places and done other things, but we, in close coordination with our allies, decided these were the ones that best fit those — that best fit that criteria.
So certainly there’s an element that is not part of the — there are other elements, and we’ll continue to examine those as we go forward. So we did employ the JASSM-ER.
Q: Would you say you hit most — you destroyed most of the infrastructure, 50 percent, 80 percent…
GEN. MCKENZIE: You can look at the map — you can particularly at the Barzeh site and make your own conclusions. I would say they had three buildings there and a parking deck, and now they don’t. And so I think very — that’s probably the one that’s easiest to see because it’s a building structure.
Q: (Inaudible) their infrastructure…
GEN. MCKENZIE: I think we dealt them a severe blow. There’s some left, but we dealt them a severe blow.
Q: And what about the prospective use of chlorine in the future? Would you — the administration didn’t act in the event of previous use of chlorine. Dana, will it act now? Is that a new red line?
MS. WHITE: What’s important to understand is that the Assad regime has a pattern of using chemical weapons against its own people, against the chemical weapons convention. Despite the fact that they had agreed to it, and despite the fact that the Russians were their guarantors.
So what happens next has everything to do with what the Assad regime decides to do. And it has everything to do with what the Russian government decides to enable as well.
Q: Thanks, Dana.
Why does the administration — (inaudible) touched on this — but why does the administration feel these strikes are enough to deter the Assad regime from using chemical weapons again?
MS. WHITE: I’ll pass it to the general in a second.
We — we were very methodical in making the decision about these sites. And it was a deliberate decision to go to the storage facilities, to go to the research and development facilities. That was the difference. We think by doing this, this was very successful, and we are confident that we’ve significantly degraded his ability to ever use chemical weapons again.
Q: One more. And what kind of response should the Assad regime expect from the U.S. if he — if they were to use chemical weapons again?
MS. WHITE: One, I think it’s very important to remember that we had — that this represents three permanent members of the U.N. Security Council who did this. The U.K. and France are our oldest allies. This is about values. We did this because it’s intolerable for any civilized nation to tolerate the use of chemical weapons.
Q: Thank you.
MS. WHITE: Missy?
Q: Thank you. I just have two — one follow-up on Michael’s question for you, general, and a question for you, Dana.
General, can you just — to press you a little bit on the chemical weapons program. Can you give us an idea of — was this — should the American public understand that this is a minority of the existing chemical weapons programs? Is this more than half? Is there any way you can give us a better sense of the scale of what these three sites represented?
Also for you, general, how long did the strike last? How many minutes, hours?
And, Dana, can you just comment on, to put this in the context of the broader civil war. I know that the U.S. policy is not to get engaged in the civil war, and that the objective is to get to a negotiated settlement eventually. But you know, we have this significant military response to chemical attacks that, in this instance, killed an estimated 45 people.
At the same time, the Assad regime has continued to use conventional means to attack women and children, civilians repeatedly, using barrel bombs and other means. Can you talk about that? How should people understand the difference in the response to these more isolated chemical attacks, and the ongoing conventional attacks by the Assad government on its own people?
MS. WHITE: It is clear to everyone that the Syrian people have suffered for too long. And it’s why we are 100 percent behind the U.N.-backed Geneva Peace Process, and we encourage our allies and partners in the region to also help facilitate that conversation.
We have a new U.N. envoy, and this is an opportunity to really put real steam behind the process.
But our mission in Syria remains the same. It is to defeat ISIS. It is not to be involved in the civil war.
MS. WHITE: Oh, Christina, I’m sorry. There you go.
GEN. MCKENZIE: Missy, so your two-part question first. We believe by hitting Barzeh first, we’ve attacked the heart of the Syrian chemical weapons program. I’m not saying that they’re going not be able to reconstitute it, not saying that it’s going to continue. This has dealt them a very serious blow, so I think that’s the core of what I’m saying.
Second point is how long did the attack last? As you know, an operation like this has many, many elements, from a 0400 time on target, which all of our missiles impacted within a minute or two of that rime. Really several hours before you begin to launch tankers, you begin to launch intelligence aircraft; you can begin to do a variety of things.
Probably a couple hours before would be the period of maximum intensity for the mission. That’s when you beginning to spin and launch the TLAMs from the ships. That’s when you’re other aircraft are beginning to get to the point where they’re going to release their missiles. But the operation actually many hours before in order to just get set up.
MS. WHITE: Christina?
Q: Thank you.
What would trigger another wave of coalition attacks? Are we talking another chemical weapons attack or retaliation? And do we expect any retaliation either from the regime, the Russians or the Iranians?
MS. WHITE: I can’t speculate on what could happen. But what I will tell you is that this — we took action, and what happens next is in — is the decision of Assad.
Q: Do we expect any kind of retaliation?
GEN. MCKENZIE: I can’t speak to that, but I can tell you that we’re ready for it. We’re postured both in the region and globally. We’re on the balls of our feet, and we’re ready for anything.
MS. WHITE: Tony?
Q: General, a couple of questions. One, was this the least extensive of all the options that were crafted? Can you give us a feel for how many options were put together? And was this the one that would mete out the least amount of damage?
GEN. MCKENZIE: So I would tell you that we can’t comment on options we present to the president. That’s the choice he makes. I’m not going to be able to discuss that.
I will tell you that of all the options carefully looked at ways to balance minimize collateral damage. You balance always minimizing collateral damage against getting maximum effect. These are three targets that seemed to hit the sweet spot and do that.
Q: One follow-up: What impact did the very public prelude to this attack have on military planning in terms of enveloping in maybe a 21st century bodyguard of lies in terms of deception on ship movements? What impact did it have on possibly launch axes of the aircraft or ships used? We were all focused on the Donald Cook. The Donald Cook wasn’t used. Can you give some sense of that?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure, if I could build on your “bodyguard of lies” comment, the truth is, it had no effect.
Q: No effect on…
GEN. MCKENZIE: On military planning. It had no effect on military planning.
MS. WHITE: David? David Martin.
Q: I thought I heard you say that the strike put more steam behind the Geneva Peace Process. How does this help bring peace to Syria?
MS. WHITE: The U.N. — we have been very clear about the fact that we fully support the U.N.-backed Geneva Process. Sochi has failed. Our focus remains defeating ISIS. It is not to get involved in the Syrian civil war. We call on all nations, and I think the demonstration of our allies, France and the U.K. helping us, demonstrates that we are serious about the fact that chemical weapons use is intolerable. It’s inexcusable. But we will remain committed to the 70-nation coalition to defeat ISIS.
Q: But how does preventing the use of chemicals weapons affect the outcome of the Syrian civil war?
MS. WHITE: It affects it by, again, demonstrating to the world that this is a heinous regime. This is a regime that murders its own people daily. We, yesterday, with the help of our allies, addressed the fact that they continue to use chemical weapons against their own people. We continue to hope and urge, and we’re confident, that the U.N. process will move forward. But our mission remains to defeat ISIS. There is still work to be done, and we will do it.
Right here, and right here.
Q: I’m going to ask three quick questions. First, were you ready yesterday to engage Russian targets in case Russia responded to that attack?
Second, you keep talking about the current Syrian chemical program. Can you give us an idea about the size of this program in comparison to what the regime had before dismantling it? What is it in percentage?
And third, you’re talking about evidence of chemical weapons attack. We haven’t seen any evidence really. That’s what you’re saying.
However, there’s an organization on the ground in Syria, the OPCW, and it will conduct an investigation. Why didn’t you wait for that investigation to end?
MS. WHITE: Well, let’s remember that OPCW and others have been blocked from entering Ghouta and Douma. This — that’s because of the Assad regime.
We need to remember that everything that’s happening with respect to the murder of these people, innocent people, is the responsibility of the Assad regime.
So we were very confident about the evidence that we had, and it was clear. And the secretary said yesterday, he was very confident about the intelligence, as well as the evidence. And that’s why we moved forward.
Q: And then the two other questions on Russia and then the size of the…
GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure. We have an active, effective deconfliction channel with Russia. It’s been used months before this attack. It was used through this strike. It has been used afterwards. And I’m not going to be able to comment on anything more specific than that.
Q: The size of the program, the current program that — what the Syrian regime has now? Because you made — like (inaudible) said, like, you made lots of assessment. You have a good idea. You have lots of target. So in comparison to what the Assad regime had before.
GEN. MCKENZIE: I would say there’s still a residual element of Syrian program that’s out there. I believe that we took the heart of it out with the attacks that we accomplished last night.
I’m not going to say that they are 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 after based on the activities of last night.
MS. WHITE: We have a couple — time for a couple more questions.
Q: Thanks, Dana.
President Trump tweeted about an hour ago “mission accomplished,” which, of course, historically has not borne out when the phrase has been used. And you’re saying that if — you know, you’ve left the option for future strikes in case chemical weapons are used again. So could you sort of reconcile those two statements, “mission accomplished” and “could be used in the future?”
And in terms of authorities, if there are other strikes, does the secretary — the secretary have to go to President Trump, or has he been delegated the authority to carry them out as he sees fit?
MS. WHITE: So to your first point, last night operations were very successful. We met our objectives. We hit the sites, the heart of the chem-weapons program. So it was mission accomplished.
Give me your second part.
Q: The second part if is the authorities question. If there are future strikes, does the same process have to go, where you go to the NSC and the PCC? What is the process now?
MS. WHITE: As the secretary said last night, the president has the authority under Article II to defend U.S. interests and national interests. And so I am not going to speculate on anything that happens in the future, but he was full — this was a fully legitimate operation.
Q: General McKenzie, did the chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Dunford, did he communicate with General Gerasimov in the days or hours leading up to this strike?
And then, in addition, would you — do you assess this has actually fundamentally changed the military balance of the Syrian civil war, or is the Assad regime maintaining its advantage?
GEN. MCKENZIE: So I go back to some of the things I’ve already said about the deconfliction channel with the Russians. It’s a multilevel, robust system of communication that we’ve employed for some time. I’m not going to be able to give you any more information on a particular conversation that the chairman may or may not have had.
What was the second part of your question?
Q: The military balance of the civil war — do these strikes fundamentally affect that, or does the Assad regime’s apparent ascendancy remains?
GEN. MCKENZIE: I think our strikes were targeted to send a message about the employment of chemical weapons, and I think they were successful at achieving that military objective.
MS. WHITE: Wait, I want to get to someone who hasn’t spoken.
Way in back here.
Q: Connie Marks from Channel 4 News. Thank you, Dana.
Just following up on Idrees’ question, this question of mission accomplished. If the mission is to deter President Assad from producing, from spreading chemical weapons, isn’t it actually impossible at this state militarily to know whether that mission, as described, was accomplished?
MS. WHITE: Last night, operations were successful. We met all of our objectives. We hit all of our targets successfully. No aircraft, allied aircraft, were engaged. It was a successful mission. What happens next depends on what the Assad regime decides to do.
Right over here.
Q: Thanks. Patrick Tucker, Defense One.
You said earlier that you didn’t observe any material effects on forces during the strike. Can you describe any other effects, electromagnetic or cyber effects that were perhaps targeted toward coalition craft?
And also, have you observed any activity around residual or remaining sites that you didn’t strike that suggests perhaps an after-action plan to hide or use chemical weapons in some other way?
GEN. MCKENZIE: The Syrian response was remarkably ineffective in all domains. That’s probably the best answer I can give you. So they — they had no material impact on the strike.
As I noted in my prepared comments, they actually typically began to fire their missiles after the last impact of our weapon. So no appreciable effect that I — that we know at this time.
MS. WHITE: Finish your thought.
Q: Other activity around other sites, perhaps the movement of weapons or movement of chemicals or movement of…
GEN. MCKENZIE: I just don’t have that information right now, sorry.
MS. WHITE: OK, Tom, just — yes?
Q: You said we’re very confident about the evidence we have. Now Russia and Syria denied any chemical weapons were used. I’m just wondering why you wouldn’t share your evidence with the world? Adlai Stevenson famously went to the U.N. in 1962 with evidence of the Russian build-up in Cuba. Why wouldn’t you do something similar, especially if there are doubts?
MS. WHITE: Well, there’s no doubt for us.
Q: Well, why don’t you share the evidence then?
MS. WHITE: One, a lot of this has to do with intelligence. And I am very happy to show evidence if I can. But we were very confident about the decisions we made.
I’m going to take one more question from Aaron?
You’ve already spoken. Come on, give somebody else a chance. (Laughter.)
Q: Just a couple of clarification points. Thanks, Dana. (Laughter.)
General McKenzie, you said, I believe, there’s still an air-defense package in operation right now in case there’s potential for retaliation from either Syrian or Russian assets. How long do you intend to keep that package in the area, specifically keeping an eye on if there’s kind of a retaliation to this strike?
And then during the strikes last year, a couple of TLAMs, I believe, failed, just not because of interference, but they just failed. Were there any weapons that didn’t make it to their targets this time?
GEN. MCKENZIE: None of our Tomahawks experienced any problems.
GEN. MCKENZIE: I don’t believe, no.
And you last questions, we typically keep DCA over deployed forces in Eastern Syria. So typically, we’ve got aircraft up over them. So this — as we — as we open in time from the event going forward, the commander will continually readjust the air-defense posture that we’ve got. Right now, it’s robust, and we’ll keep it robust for a while, and then we’ll make adjustments, just based on our observations of the environment.
MS. WHITE: Lucas? (Laughter.)
Q: General, the Syrian government is saying they shot down over a dozen Tomahawks. Are they lying?
And what Syrian military units did you strike?
And for the people at home, can you explain this deconfliction? You say you didn’t coordinate or give a heads-up to the Russians, but you said you deconflicted.
And, Dana, finally, you say you want to avoid conflict with Syria, yet, with all due respect, you just lobbed a couple dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles into the country. Can you explain that?
MS. WHITE: Our mission stays the same. It’s to defeat ISIS.
But Assad’s actions were beyond the pale. Again, we will do our — we will 100 percent — and we are supporting Envoy De Mistura. We will continue to do that, because we want a diplomatic, political resolution to the Syrian conflict.
But civilized nations can’t let what’s happened in Syria stand. So with that, I’m going to…
Q: General (inaudible).
MS. WHITE: Oh. Sorry, go ahead.
GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure. So you asked about deconfliction. Probably the best way to understand it is this: The Russians don’t have a veto on anything we do, and that’s probably the best way to describe it. We’re not cooperating with them in Syria. We don’t want to get into a fight with them. They don’t want to get into a fight with us. The best way to do that is to share certain information about what you’re doing, carefully — carefully metered out by us, and I’m sure the same by them. But we’re not cooperating with them, and they have no veto over what we do.
At the same time, we owe it to our service men and women and those of our coalition partners to do the best we can to simplify the environment in which we’re going to fight, so the deconfliction mechanisms allow us to do that.
As to the last part of your question, I can’t help you with what the Syrians are saying or not saying; what I’m telling you is what actually happened.
MS. WHITE: And on that point, as Secretary Mattis said last night, the Russian disinformation campaign has already begun. There has been a 2,000 percent increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours. Therefore, we will keep you all abreast of the facts moving forward.
Thank you all very much.
Q: General, does this operation have a name?