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US strike damaged or destroyed 20 per cent of Syria's operational airplanes: Mattis

US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea Photograph: (Reuters)

PTI Washington, United States Apr 11, 2017, 02.59 AM (IST)

The US today warned President Bashar al-Assad against using chemical weapons again and asserted that its air strikes on a Syrian air base had destroyed a fifth of his regime's working warplanes.

The Syrian government would be "ill-advised" ever again to use chemical weapons, US defence secretary James Mattis said, issuing a stern warning to the Assad regime.

His warning came as the White House insisted that the Syrian President, who used chemical weapons against its own people, should not stay in power.

The US military strike against Shayrat airfield on April 6 was a measured response to the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons, Mattis said.

"The president directed this action to deter future use of chemical weapons and to show the United States will not passively stand by while Assad murders innocent people with chemical weapons, which are prohibited by international law and which were declared destroyed," he said.

Mattis said the assessment of the Department of Defence was that the strike resulted in the damage or destruction of fuel and ammunition sites, air defence capabilities, and 20 per cent of Syria's operational aircraft.

"The Syrian government has lost the ability to refuel or rearm aircraft at Shayrat airfield and at this point, use of the runway is of idle military interest," Mattis said, echoing the White House which asserted that the US conducted a successful missile strike against the Assad regime.

As part of the efforts to de-escalate the conflict in Syria and press for a political process that can resolve the conflict and eventually result in a transition of a new, legitimate Syrian leadership, the US special envoy for Syria will be coming to Washington tomorrow for consultations with the State Department and with National Security Advisor H R McMaster here at the White House.

He has been overseeing the political talks among Syrian parties in Geneva.

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the missile strike was conducted to stop proliferation and deterrence of chemical weapons.

"When you see mass weapons of destruction being used, it should be a concern to every nation, especially our own people. The proliferation of those weapons pose a grave threat to our national security. So, number one, we have to stop that," Spicer said.

"Number two, we have to stop IS. With respect to the people of Syria, by us taking action and de-escalating what's going on in Syria, that's the greatest thing you can do to support those people. De-escalating the conflict there, containing IS is the greatest aspect of humanitarian relief that we can provide, first and foremost," Spicer said in response to a question.

He said creating areas in which the US can work with allies, including Russia, and committing to ensuring that there are places that are free from violence and are places free for people to gather safely is another aspect of humanitarian relief.

"I think everyone would agree that the last thing the people want to do there is leave. They want to stay there. They want to be in Syria. They want to have a safe place to remain with their families and not be separated," he said.

"So our number one priority is to defeat IS,but we're also, I think from a humanitarian standpoint and a refugee standpoint, ensuring that we create an environment that provides a safe place for them to ultimately remain," the White House Press Secretary said.

"Then on Russia in particular, I think that if you look at the counties that are with us, it speaks pretty loudly the number of countries that have stood shoulder to shoulder with this President. Russia, on the other hand, stands with Syria, North Korea and Iran. I think when you contrast the two groups of countries, sets, it's pretty clear that we're on the right side of this issue," Spicer said.

The White House Press Secretary alleged that the Syrian President is indulging in a "PR stint" after the missile strike, which took out significant portion of its air capabilities.

"What you're hearing, you're taken two pre-fuelled planes and taken them off. It's a P R stunt," he said.

"The bottom line is their fuelling capability's been taken out, their radar capability was taken out and over 20 per cent of their fixed-wing aircraft from their entire air force was taken out. Their ability to operate successfully out of that airbase is gone," Spicer said.

"It's a PR stunt, they took some pre-fuelled planes, pushed them over to make it look like nothing -- but make no mistake about it, their radar capability is gone, their fuelling capability is gone and a good chunk of their aircraft is gone. That's a huge success," Spicer said. 


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