President Donald Trump has ordered a missile strike against a Syrian air base in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town on April 4.
Fifty-nine Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from two US Navy ships in the Mediterranean. According to the Syrian army, 6 people were killed.
It is the first direct US military action against forces commanded by Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
The Kremlin, which backs President Assad, has condemned the strike.
The strike comes just two days after dozens of civilians, including many children, died in the suspected nerve gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province.
On the orders of President Trump, Navy destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross fired dozens of cruise missiles at Shayrat airfield in western Homs province at about 04:40 Syrian time.
According to the Pentagon, they targeted aircraft, aircraft shelters, storage areas, ammunition supply bunkers and air defense systems at the Syrian government-controlled facility.
Speaking from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, President Trump said he had acted in America’s “vital national security interest” to prevent the use of chemical weapons.
Donald Trump branded President Bashar al-Assad a “dictator” who had “launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians”.
The president said in a statement: “Tonight I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end this slaughter and bloodshed in Syria and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.”
It is not known whether the six people killed were civilian or military.
The US has led a coalition carrying out air strikes against jihadist groups in Syria since 2014 but this is the first time it has targeted government forces.
President Donald Trump has previously spoken out against US military involvement in Syria, instead calling for a greater focus on domestic interests.
Only last week US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Washington was not prioritizing the removal of President Bashar al-Assad.
However, President Trump said “something should happen” against the Syrian leadership following the deaths in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, without giving details.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also signaled a sudden shift in policy on April 6, saying that Bashar al-Assad should have no role in a future Syria.
The Kremlin is one of President Assad’s most important allies and its military has been targeting all rebel groups in Syria, including jihadists such as ISIS, but also the more moderate opposition forces that the US and other Western nations have been supporting.
The Pentagon said the Russian military had been informed ahead of the US action.
However, Russia reacted angrily to the US strike, which the Syrian army said had caused significant damage.