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U.S., France and U.K. Strike Syria's Chemical Weapons Program. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired April 14, 2018 - 02:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[02:00:00]

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Breaking news as the U.S., U.K. and France strike Syria. I'm Cyril Vanier.

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And I'm Bianca Nobilo. Thank you for joining us.

VANIER: The U.S., U.K. and France launched military strikes against the Syrian government and its chemical weapons program.

NOBILO: These images show the CNN Damascus earlier. They appear to show weapons of some kind streaking across the sky. We know aircraft, missiles and at least one warship have been used in the strikes.

VANIER: Syrian state media reports some of the missiles were intercepted. This here is video that Syrian military media posted online. Here's how U.S. president Donald Trump announced the attacks.

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DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, a short time ago, I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now under way.

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NOBILO: The U.S. says the operation has targeted at least three sites. They include a research center near Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs and a nearby command post and storage facility.

The strikes followed disturbing scenes like the one you're about to see from last week.

VANIER: This purports to show people in Douma being treated after a chemical attack. The World Health Organization says dozens of people were reportedly killed. About 500 others showed signs of chemical exposure. And the U.S. says there's proof that at least chlorine was used in that attack.

NOBILO: CNN has reporters around the world covering the story from every angle. We begin our coverage with Fred Pleitgen in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Ryan Browne is at the Pentagon and Sam Kiley is in Moscow.

Fred, we'll go to you first. You've been in Syria over the last weeks. I've been speaking to you in Damascus. Tell us, what do you know about these chemical facilities and what impact it might have on Assad's regime, the fact they've now been targeted.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think it will have any sort of impact at all in the wider military picture in Syria. I don't think any of the main military capabilities of the Assad government have been hit.

It's unclear at this point whether any airfields might have been hit or any sort of infrastructure. It doesn't seem as though this was something that was targeted at Assad's conventional military forces that have been prosecuting a campaign against the rebels in Syria.

I've already been in touch this morning with some folks in Damascus. Some of them were quite rattled when these airstrikes happened in the middle of the night. But it seems, as dawn has come, many believe this attack had a lot less impact than they would have thought initially.

They believe that many of the missiles were intercepted. That's something both the Syrian government and the Russians said, that many missiles were intercepted. The places that were hit, at least in the Damascus area n-- we know one place called the Barzeh research facility, which is in a mountainous area towards the northwest of Damascus. It's a large military area known as Mount Qasioun hit by the Israelis in the past, as well.

That is one of the biggest military facilities in all of Syria. Whether or not that took a major hit is unclear. The Syrians are saying a research lab and building and a storage facility there was hit. There was only material damage in those areas.

And then also they say in and around Homs, in the center of Syria, that two facilities were hit there as well. The U.S. says those were storage facilities for potential chemical weapons.

The Syrians are saying that all the missiles that the U.S. and its allies launched on those areas were apparently intercepted. But at some that were then, as they call it, derailed or went off track, apparently caused some harm to some people on the ground. That's the view from the Syrian government.

Whether or not the strikes really caused that little damage is obviously unclear from our vantage point. We do know there are small- scale anti-U.S. and anti-British and French demonstrations going on in Damascus, specifically in front of --

[02:05:00] PLEITGEN: -- the defense department there. We've heard there are Syrian jets in the skies above Damascus, apparently trying to conduct some sort of show of force or something similar.

NOBILO: Fred, thank you for the update from Beirut, which has a big issue with Syrian refugees. And I think flights were canceled there because of fear of airstrikes a few days ago. We'll hear more from you shortly. Thank you.

VANIER: And President Trump says the U.S. is ready to sustain its operation until Syria stops using chemical weapons. But his Defense Secretary seemed to send a slightly different message on Friday. Here's what James Mattis said at the Pentagon.

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GEN. JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: But right now, this is a one-time shot and I believe that it sent a very strong message to dissuade him, to deter him from doing this again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VANIER: Here's CNN's Ryan Browne live at the Pentagon for us.

Ryan, what's happening right now where you are?

Have they been able to determine yet whether all the U.S. strikes and their allies' strikes were successful?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I think the battle damage assessment is the military term. They're trying to determine right now how successful this strike was.

Secretary Mattis saying today that the number of weapons used was over two times the number of weapons used last year during the April strikes against Syrian military facilities.

So more targets, more weapons used; aircraft, Navy ships, multiple countries involved. So a larger scale operation targeting Syrian regime's chemical weapons infrastructure. They'll be reviewing to see whether or not those targets were destroyed. That intelligence is constantly being assessed.

We will hope to hear more about that and we will receive a brief in a few hours. We're hoping to get more information on that picture.

The targets were also chosen because there was no presence of Russian forces. That was a concern for military planners selecting their targets. They wanted to make sure they did not kill any civilians or Russian troops, potentially escalating the situation.

VANIER: Do they have a second list for potential further attacks should they occur?

BROWNE: They did he lay out the fact that they will be looking at the Assad regime's behavior, seeing what it does. There are, of course, additional targets that the military has developed against Syria in the past; airfields, for instance, things of that nature. So there are wider targets potentially.

President Trump talking about the sustained campaign. That could include diplomatic and economic activity, we're being told, not necessarily just military action but definitely an effort under way to try and dissuade the Assad regime from using chemical weapons in the future.

VANIER: Ryan Browne at the Pentagon, thank you very much. We'll have to cross back to you in the coming hours. Thank you.

BROWNE: You bet.

NOBILO: The Russian embassy in Washington had a strong reaction to the attacks on Syria.

VANIER: A tweeted statement from Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov says this, "A predesigned scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris."

NOBILO: Live in Russia with more reaction, our Sam Kiley joins us from Moscow.

Sam, we've just had this wire into CNN, saying that the French defense minister has confirmed the Russians were warned beforehand of these strikes. If you could talk to us about that and whether or not that might mitigate a chance of escalation here with the Russians.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think it would have made any difference at all, quite frankly. The whole attack pattern had been telegraphed by none other than the U.S. president Donald Trump.

The Syrians knew that it was going to happen and, therefore, obviously, so did the Russians and the Iranians. Plenty of time could have been made and was made to move equipment, men and materiel around so they were away from areas that were likely to be struck.

The most likely areas to be struck were precisely those three areas that have been hit. According to the Syrian authorities, there have been three injuries as a consequence, no deaths.

And critically not even the Russian radar was fired up. The incoming missiles did not even trigger a response or even a serious tracking response from the Russian radar.

So this was very precisely calibrated, I think, to avoid the sort of escalation that certainly Secretary of State (sic) Mattis had indicated was a real danger. We know from CNN's reporting coming out of the White House and the Pentagon over the last few days that there clearly was a degree of disagreement between the president and his Secretary of Defense about the scale --

[02:10:00]

KILEY: -- of this response to the Douma chemical weapons attack.

Nonetheless, I think there were, I repeat, use of chemical weapons, it would probably trigger an instantaneous, a much wider response. But for the time being, I think the Russians are probably fairly comfortable. They're saying what they would be expected to say which is to complain about this and then hope the matter is closed.

NOBILO: Sam, the Russian ambassador to the U.S. has said that, "we warned that actions such as these will not be left without consequences," as we referred to earlier. From what you know of Russia, what type of consequences could they be?

KILEY: Well, the Russians have been in the Duma. The Russian Parliament is due in a couple day's time to discuss a bill to have a series of counter economic sanctions imposed on the United States and some of their allies, restrictions on pharmaceuticals, agricultural products, tobacco and export of titanium.

Thirty percent of Boeing's titanium of building aircraft comes from Russia. So they're trying to have a sort of gesture towards the very punishing sanctions Russia is struggling under as a consequence of actions not just in Syria but the invasion and annexation of Crimea and continued destabilization of Eastern Ukraine.

Other than that, I think this is rhetoric. This has been a pretty limited response to the chemical weapons attack on Douma. I think that the Russians are probably likely to leave it at that.

And I think everybody will be pretty relieved it hasn't been more wide and, therefore, with the higher potential of escalation into something much more dangerous, which would have been a military clash between Russia and the United States in the Middle East.

NOBILO: It seems like the U.S. did go to great lengths to try and avoid that. Sam in Moscow, thanks so much.

VANIER: Stay with us, everyone. Our breaking news coverage of the Syrian airstrikes continues. More after this.

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TRUMP: America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria under no circumstances. As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home. And great warriors they are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBILO: We want to recap our breaking news with you now. The U.S., France and the U.K. say they've launched military strikes against Syria's chemical weapons program. It's in response to a suspected chemical attack in Douma last week. Recent images like these appear to show weapons in the skies over Damascus, the Syrian capital.

VANIER: We know that Aircraft, missiles and at least one warship have been used in all of these strikes. France released this video of its jets. They're taking off to join the operation.

Let's take a look at the military equipment used in the strikes. The U.S. and its allies have a range of hardware at sea and air, bases throughout the region. At least one Navy warship based in the Red Sea also took part in this.

And from the air, the U.S. used B-1 bombers which feature long-range missiles at supersonic speed and can hold up to 24 cruise missiles.

NOBILO: We know the U.K. used four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s in these strikes. They held Storm Shadow cruise missiles and launched them at a former base some 15 miles west of Homs. And the French launched Rafale fighter jets, which can refuel in flight and go up to 863 miles per hour or 1,389 kilometers per hour.

VANIER: Let's speaking to CNN military analyst, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Francona and CNN national security analyst Gayle Tzemach- Lemmon with us, as well.

Rick, we knew that some kind of military action against Syria was coming. All the talk in the last 48 hours was about calibration. The U.S. had to strike hard enough to punish Syria but not so hard that it would start a war with Russia and Iran.

How do you think it did?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I think they achieved that goal. If you look at the target set -- and it was interesting, the Syria media had the target set released before the Western press did. They knew what was being struck.

Every one of the targets -- and there were 10 -- had something to do with the chemical weapons program. So the target set was very narrowly defined and they stuck to it. It included production facilities, research facilities, storage facilities, two air bases involved in attacks and a couple brigades that were responsible for the attacks.

So it was tightly done but it was a very limited number of missiles. Although it was twice the number of missiles they fired in 2017, it was spread out over a much larger target set.

So I think the big goal here was to send a message, cause a little bit of damage but get the point across that the world is not going to tolerate this without reaching that trip wire of getting the Russians involved. So I think it was successful in that aspect. VANIER: Gayle, your view, especially on reaching goal number one, which was deter Syria from ever using chemical weapons again. Do you think they've done that?

GAYLE TZEMACH-LEMMON, CNN U.S. SECURITY ANALYST: This was clearly designed to send a message. All along the United States, the United Kingdom, France, have been seeking this Goldilocks strategy, which is to basically deter the regime from using chemical weapons against its own people while not ending the regime itself.

It was very clearly stated that they did not want to unseat. This was not aimed at getting any of those nations further into the Syrian civil war. There really has been a mismatch from the very start of this war in terms of will.

All along, you've had the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian backers which was willing to do anything it needed to stay in power versus the international community, the United States, the U.K., France, which was really willing to do all it could to stay out of this conflict.

I think tonight was aimed at sending a very clear message there were international norms that they were willing to uphold --

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LEMMON: -- but none of these nations wanted to wade any deeper into a Syrian civil war.

VANIER: Just on that specific point, again, you think right now Bashar al-Assad is thinking, OK, I'm not using chemical weapons again?

LEMMON: This is the question. There has been seven years of unimpeded impunity that this regime has enjoyed. It is clear that the international community, the United States, the U.K., France, is willing to stand up on certain things and particularly on chemical weapons.

But really, short of that, the regime has achieved most of its goals. One Syrian activist, I was in Syria several weeks back. One Syrian activist said to me on WhatsApp about two days ago, this is so late in the game. It really won't change the reality on the ground for so many of us.

VANIER: Rick, I've been wondering, ever since the attacks were announced over the last few hours, I've been wondering, well, they seem fairly predictable targets, the chemical weapons infrastructure of Syria.

Do you think they've had time over the last week since the chemical weapons attack, the alleged chemical weapons attack occurred?

Do you think they've had time to empty those targets?

FRANCONA: They certainly moved things around. We saw them moving aircraft and we saw even the Russians moving some of their assets. Most of the vessels were put out to sea and some of the aircraft removed around. The Syrians moved aircraft to different airfields.

Most of their transports moved from Damascus to outlying airfields, trying to disperse them. They knew this was coming. They knew some airfields would be the target.

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VANIER: Does that mean it didn't hurt them?

FRANCONA: Probably didn't hurt them as much. If we would have done it immediately after, we may have caught so many things on the ground.

But I think back to what both Gayle and I were trying to say, we're sending a message, we're not really causing a lot of material damage. Yes, we blew up some buildings, blew up some facilities but I think mostly it was the message that was sent, that this was just the indication that we can do this and now we have the political will to do it.

So should there be any future use of chemical weapons, we can return with a much greater size attack.

VANIER: Gayle, how much of a connection do you see between the alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma and the chemical attack that took place in Salisbury, England?

I bring this up because Britain brought this up. They're saying they see this as a global picture of chemical weapons being used again around the world.

How much do you think these two are connected?

Or is it just the calendar, it's happenstance that they're happening around one another?

LEMMON: I mean, it's a great question and one that was asked at the Pentagon today, this evening. I think what you see that is so interesting is that you see a united -- this is not the United States on a unilateral mission. This is really the United States, United Kingdom and France, all of which have talked about Russian intervention in elections, misinformation campaigns.

And certainly the real shocking attack, the chemical attack in the U.K. on U.K. soil, I think, did not escape anybody's notice. And it's a fascinating thing to see the three of them come together.

If you think about this, the United Nations Security Council has been unable to do anything to stop the crimes going on in against civilians inside Syria. Russia has blocked 12 resolutions in the United Nations Security Council.

So you do see here, I think, what you haven't seen in the U.N., which is a block of allied nations that are taking action in concert successfully.

VANIER: Rick, do you see these strikes moving any of the dominoes, the regional dominoes in a way perhaps the U.S. hadn't foreseen?

You were using the word "tripwire" earlier. Iran, for instance, is saying, this is going to have regional consequences. And Russia also was saying we can't let this go unanswered.

FRANCONA: I'm chalking that up to what they're supposed to say. I think that's the rhetoric and everybody right now is breathing a sigh of relief that this was a limited strike. There didn't seem to be any reaction on the part of the Russians.

In fact, they didn't even turn their radars on. We didn't see any Iranian reaction. I think everybody is very happy this is hopefully just going to go away. And I think it has a possibility to do that because I think most of us who watch this region know how this ends.

Bashar al-Assad will remain in power, the Russians will emerge the key power broker and the Iranians and Turks and Russians will have seats at the table to decide what happens in Syria. And the United States will be frozen out.

In fact, when the president said that we were going to be leaving very soon, and I think he reiterated that again today, this just -- this sings right to the Iranians, Russians and Turks because they know they're going to make decisions without us.

VANIER: Look, I'm glad you mentioned --

[02:25:00]

VANIER: -- that last point because I think it's something we haven't talked about enough. We'll get a chance to talk about it again but it's the extent to which the Syrian civil war continues to tilt in favor of the Syrian regime.

And the fall of Douma just over the last few days, after that alleged chemical weapons attack, was another big step in that direction.

Look, Lt. Col. Rick Francona, Gayle Lemmon, thank you both very much for joining us on the show. Thanks.

NOBILO: The U.S., France and U.K. have launched precision strikes on Syria. Our breaking news coverage of the latest developments will continue after this short break.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

NOBILO: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Bianca Nobilo.

VANIER: I'm Cyril Vanier. Let's recap tonight's breaking news for you. We want to start with this. The U.S., France and U.K. say they have launched military strikes against the Syrian government and its chemical weapons program.

NOBILO: They're in response to last week's suspected chemical attack in Douma. U.S. Defense officials say at least three sites --

[02:30:00]

NOBILO: -- have been targeted. These earlier images appear to show weapons streaking across the skies of Damascus. U.S. President Donald Trump announced the strikes late Friday. And he had this message for Syrian allies, Iran and Russia.

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TRUMP: I also have a message tonight for the two governments most responsible for supporting, equipping and financing the criminal Assad regime.

To Iran and to Russia, I ask: What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?

The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep. No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting rogue states, brutal tyrants and murderous dictators.

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VANIER: The U.K. says it's been in close contact with the U.S. and France over the past few days coordinating this. Prime Minister Theresa May says the strikes should come as a surprise to no one.

NOBILO: She emphasized that they are not about regime change but to send a clear message that using chemical weapons will not be tolerated.

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THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: This evening I have authorized British armed forces to conduct coordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian regime's chemical-weapons capability and deter their use. We are acting together with our American and French allies.

In Douma, last Saturday a chemical weapons attack killed up to 75 people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBILO: France was also quick to issue a response to the airstrikes.

VANIER: According to French president Emmanuel Macron, "The red line set by France in May 2017 has been crossed.

"I have thus ordered the French forces to intervene tonight, as part of an international operation with the United States of America and the United Kingdom, directed against the clandestine chemical arsenal of the Syrian regime."

Our Jim Bittermann has more reaction from Paris.

NOBILO: And Nima Elbagir is gauging the response from London.

Nima, it's interesting to hear the prime minister talk about intervening now because she said, as well, I've done this because I judge this action to be in Britain's national interests.

Of course, you and I both know the last time military intervention in Syria was on the table was back in 2013 under David Cameron. And Parliament voted against it.

So how significant do you think it is she's gone ahead and committed Britain to these strikes?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And that she's gone ahead, of course, without taking this to Parliament and allowing Parliament to vote on it, as they did in 2013 when they refused to authorize Cameron to move forward.

The sense we're getting here is that for Theresa May and the British cabinet who were briefed yesterday, that this isn't just about Douma. This is about a pattern of Russian overreach that they believe stems back to 2014 and the annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.

This is very much about U.K. national interests. Yesterday, just hours before the strike, the British national security adviser took the very rare step of making public some very key intelligence on why they believe Russia was involved in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, the Russian double agent, and that they believe that this was an act of Russian aggression on British soil.

So when we've been speaking to British authorities about this, the picture that really is coming together is that Britain feels not only that they can't afford to be a junior partner in this, that this isn't about the U.S.-U.K. special relationship.

This is first and foremost about Britain about forging ahead what they believe needs to happen for the U.K. to be safe here and for British citizens to be safe on British soil.

NOBILO: What is the public mood, Nima, among British citizens for this type of military intervention?

Parliament is in recess. We haven't heard a debate yet.

So what's the sense you get from being in London?

ELBAGIR: As you know so well, with any of these kinds of actions, the specter of the Iraq War always hovers very large. Interestingly, that's what the Russian defense minister invoked yesterday, trying to draw comparisons between Theresa May and Tony Blair.

That is something we're starting to see creep out a little bit in the coverage. But the reality is that off the back of the attack in Salisbury of Sergei and his daughter, Yulia, the sense here amongst the British public is still so shocked and processing of that, that there is a broader sense that Russia does have to be checked.

This is what Theresa May is hoping that she has tapped into before she appears before Parliament on Monday -- Bianca.

NOBILO: Nima Elbagir in London, thank you.

VANIER: Let's talk to Jim Bittermann in Paris.

Now the third member of this coalition --

[02:35:00]

VANIER: -- U.S., U.K., France. First of all, for France, this kind of feels like righting a historic wrong. France had been down this road before with the previous U.S. president and in the end had to hold back from striking Syria.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely and not only that but the last time in 2013, there were jets every France on their way to Syria and they had to be called back in midflight because other members of the coalition back then decided they weren't going to take action.

From today's action, they were launched from the same base, the Rafale fighters were launched from the same base here in France to go fire their stand-off weapons that can travel about 250 kilometers away.

They were able to fire their weapons and come back to France. That required numerous refueling efforts along the way.

What's been happening here this morning is kind of interesting. It's almost a publicity campaign to support their efforts. Reporters just a few minutes ago were given copies of kind of a justification for the actions that were taken overnight, basically outlining the chemical weapons attacks that took place a week ago and other chemical weapons attacks that have occurred since 2013.

And the foreign minister said an hour and a half ago that the justification for it was under the U.N. charter, even though the Security Council, because of the Russian veto, was not able to come to any kind of agreement on sanctions against Syria for the use of chemical weapons.

He said it was justified because of a 2013 resolution that, in fact, Syria signed onto and said that chemical weapon stocks would be destroyed. So they violated that.

And he suggested that's the reason why they had some international justification for taking the action they had this morning. He called the operation this morning this morning "legitimate, proportional and targeted."

Jim, thank you. I wonder if the French president will address the nation. I know he released a statement on Friday night. And we heard the French defense minister early on Saturday morning French time. But Mr. Macron hasn't spoken himself about this.

Jim, we'll speak to you again. Thank you very much. And we've got a lot more ahead on the developing situation in Syria. We'll have the latest on the fallout from the airstrikes after this.

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[02:40:00]

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TRUMP: The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons. Establishing this deterrent is a vital national security interest of the United States.

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VANIER: All right. Let's recap our breaking news. The U.S., France and the U.K. have launched military strikes to degrade Syria's chemical weapons program. All of this is in response to a suspected chemical attack in Douma last week.

This happened overnight in Syria. Not a lot of visuals. But we have these images that appear to show strikes over Damascus, the Syrian capital.

NOBILO: We know aircraft, missiles and at least one warship have been use in the strikes. The U.S. says at least three sites have been targeted, including a research center near Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs and a nearby command post and storage facility.

The attack on Syria has many political agendas at play. So joining me now to examine a few of them are political analyst Michael Genovese and Peter Matthews in Los Angeles.

Appreciate you both being with us this evening.

If we could start with something I'd like to unpack, when the president said earlier, that the combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power, military, economic and diplomatic.

Matthew (sic), if we could start with you, what do you make of that?

What else is in the president's arsenal?

MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think, if this is a one-off and if it's just something that makes him feel good, gets immediate gratification, then I think the response will be underwhelming and the impact will be underwhelming. If it is a coordinated effort that's not just for today but for

tomorrow and beyond, then that might have a deterrent effect. By that, we mean having more sanctions and more military pressure.

But remember, we're in a box because of Russia. The presence of Russia limits our ability to move, limits our ability in what we can do. And so maybe what we can expect is that this is a symbolic act. It's a statement. But it's not going to have tremendous impact.

After all, FLINTOFF: , the Syrians and Assad have gone through an incredible amount. Today's efforts is just a brush-up of his hair. They've gone through much worse. So militarily, it was a good statement. But it's not going to have great impact.

NOBILO: And Peter, let's talk about the impact that it has on Trump's domestic audience.

What do you think the appetite for the American people is in terms of military intervention in Syria and a continued or sustained approach?

PETER MATTHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: I think it differs. With the Trump supporters, they think, finally the president could show his muscle and be the strong leader that he was.

On the other hand, many Americans are not convinced that this was the right way to go and whether or not President Trump could have waited a few more days because, don't forget, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was due to start their inspections a few hours later just after the strike.

The strike occurred just a few hours before they were supposed to inspect to see whether the Syrian government was actually responsible for this attack, the chemical attack or not.

And I think the president did that and probably took attention away from some of the problems he was facing back home as well, with the Michael Cohen situation going on. So it depends on which particular group of Americans you're talking to.

Overall, Americans don't want to be involved in another Middle East war. That's for sure. And they're willing to stand up for human rights to a certain extent. But they don't want intervention, where the U.S. will --

[02:45:00]

MATTHEWS: -- send more troops there. They're very cautious about it, most Americans. But the Trump supporters are gung ho about certain things, including what happened with the president's actions today.

NOBILO: Michael, this response, it seems to be generally considered to be fairly proportionate, about double the size of the last response to alleged chemical attack in Syria.

President Trump was leading with some quite belligerent rhetoric earlier in the week. Do you think he's being moderated by other forces, the secretary of

state, for Defense, what do you make of that?

GENOVESE: You heard the president in typical fashion oversell the case and then you saw Mattis and Dunford, the generals in charge, basically saying this is a one-off, this is it. We're not going to go further.

So you've got either confusion within the ranks or you've got the president using typical bluster; whereas Mattis and others are saying, no, no, we're going to keep this under control. So that's the conflict. The chaos in the White House extends beyond just the day- to-day salacious scandals but also all the way through defense policy.

NOBILO: With, Peter, if I go back to you on this, so, of course, there's a political imperative for Donald Trump to intervene, to establish a firm red line when it comes to the use of chemical weapons and that's something that France and the U.K. also want to get behind.

But clearly, this is all tangled up with the war in Syria. That presents the backdrop, that violence, that instability to the alleged attack.

Do you think there is any political imperative for Donald Trump to devise a more coherent strategy on Syria?

Do you think he's going to make any moves on actually trying to change the regime of Assad there?

MATTHEWS: I don't know about regime change. But I tell you, he needs to be more coherent in all of his foreign policy. I'm afraid the president is quite a hodgepodge. He goes off in different directions, as was pointed out by Michael. And there's no coordination between him and some of his top generals or even the secretary of state, for example, when Tillerson was around.

Such disjointed action on the part of the president and words is very dangerous and unpredictable. And it can cause -- at the worst, it could bring about a certain war that we would never want to have.

And I'm really not sure the president can come up with a coherent strategy because I'm not sure he's really interested in that fully or capable of it, especially with what's going on in his own personal life and being investigated and the whole thing with the Cohen situation.

I tell you, we're not in a very good situation in terms of leadership. Maybe we'll get through this crisis today that has occurred right now, unscathed or somewhat not scathed. But the United States of America has a leader that's unpredictable. And we have to really hope for the best because I'm not sure he can really handle other crises that come, in a stable, proper direction, comprehensive way.

NOBILO: Peter, Michael, thank you very much for being with us and sharing your thoughts.

GENOVESE: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

NOBILO: Coming up, more breaking news coverage of the allied airstrikes in Syria. The latest developments from Damascus and Washington right after this break.

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GEN. JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We did everything we could in our intelligence assessment, in 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. So it is a challenging problem set and we had the right military officers dealing with it.

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NOBILO: The United States, Great Britain and France conducting a series of airstrikes on Syria.

VANIER: In an address to the nation, U.S. President Donald Trump said the strikes targeted Syria's chemical weapons capabilities. He also said U.S. ships and aircraft took part, along with military assets from France and Britain.

NOBILO: Defense Secretary James Mattis said the strikes were a, quote, "one-time shot" to send a strong message to Syria. But U.S. officials did stress, the strikes could continue if needed.

Among the targets, a chemical weapons research facility and a chemical weapons storage facility. In his address, Mr. Trump lauded U.S. efforts to destroy ISIS and bring peace to the Middle East.

VANIER: He also stressed that there's only so much the U.S. can do. He called on regional countries to do more. And he took a page from the history books to justify his actions against Syria.

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TRUMP: America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria -- under no circumstances. As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home. And great warriors they are.

Looking around our very troubled world, Americans have no illusions. We cannot purge the world of evil, or act everywhere there is tyranny.

No amount of American blood or treasure can produce lasting peace and security in the Middle East. It's a troubled place. We will try to make it better, but it is a troubled place. The United States will be a partner and a friend, but the fate of the region lies in the hands of its own people.

In the last century, we looked straight into the darkest places of the human soul. We saw the anguish that can be unleashed and the evil that can take hold. By the end of World War I, more than one million people had been killed or injured by chemical weapons. We never want to see --

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TRUMP: -- that ghastly specter return.

So today, the nations of Britain, France and the United States of America have marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality.

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NOBILO: We'll have more on the breaking news in Syria just ahead.

VANIER: Stay with us. The coverage continues after this.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

NOBILO: British jets take off from Cyprus. They join the U.S. and France in airstrikes on Syria.

VANIER: We have continuing coverage of this breaking news. I'm Cyril Vanier.

NOBILO: And I'm Bianca Nobilo.

VANIER: The U.S., U.K. and France say they have launched military strikes against the Syrian government and its chemical weapons program.

NOBILO: These images show the scene in Damascus earlier. They appear to show weapons of some kind streaking across the sky. We know aircraft, missiles and at least one warship have been used in the strikes.

VANIER: The Syrian --