WEST PALM BEACH (CBSMiami) – President Donald Trump made the decision to strike in Syria Thursday while in Mar-a-Lago.
The U.S. acted alone. The airstrike, according to Trump’s national security adviser, will ensure chemical weapons won’t be brought to our shores.
In a late evening statement, President Trump said the images of small children choking to death on poison gas moved him to action.
“It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered,” said Trump.
The decision to strike was made after the president arrived Thursday in Palm Beach for a summit with Chinese president Xi Jinping – a meeting overshadowed by Tomahawk missiles that blasted from two U.S. warships.
Before their dinner, Trump consulted with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis. Shortly after the meal, the strikes commenced.
Commodore Tate Westbrook commanded the small Navy task force that launched the missiles.
Westbrook told CBS News he first was alerted for the mission on Tuesday, the same day a Syrian jet was tracked taking off from the airfield and dropping a bomb loaded with nerve gas on a roadway where it left a small crater and a cloud of death.
At the time, the destroyers Porter and Ross were some 1500 miles away.
“Turned both ships around… and both ships maintained maximum speed to get in position all the way across the Mediterranean,” Westbrook said.
By the time President Trump approved the strike at 4:30 Thursday afternoon in Palm Beach, the Porter and Ross were southwest of Cyprus, well within the 1000 mile range of their cruise missiles.
The command center for the operation alerted the Russians a strike was coming but was not aimed at them.
The Russians had helicopters and crews at the airfield and the missiles deliberately avoided those locations.
The Pentagon said the strikes rendered the base unusable and that no further action is called for unless Syria does it again.
At the end of a meeting with JinPing at Mar-a-Lago on Friday, President Trump would not answer questions shouted at him by reporters about Syria.
The president first publicly indicated he was considering action following Wednesday’s meeting with Jordan’s king.
The president worried that toxic agents could end up in the hands of terrorists and used that threat as justification for striking without the permission of Congress.
“It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” said Trump.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Sarin gas attacks were a clear violation of the 2013 diplomatic deal that Russia and the U.S. brokered to have Syria hand over its chemical stockpile.
He said after President Obama had turned a blind eye to Assad’s repeated violations, inaction in Syria was not an option for President Trump.
“Previous attempts at change in Assad’s behavior have all failed,” said Trump.
Following the strike, diplomats rushed to a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Friday to discuss America’s missile strikes on Syria.
“The United States will not stand by when chemical weapons are used,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley.
Allies commended President Trump for taking action.
“War crimes have consequences and the greatest war criminal of all Bashar Al Assad has now been put on notice,” said UK’S U.N. Envoy Matthew Rycroft.
Russia supports the Syrian government and denounced the U.S. action.
“We describe that attack as a flagrant violation of international law,” said Russia’s U.N. Envoy Vladimir Safronkov.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson heads to Moscow next week and Russia says it expects him to explain Washington’s position.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)