At least 20 Syrian fighter jets were blown up in the US military’s missile attack on a Syrian airbase early on Friday, a Pentagon official says.
The US Navy’s USS Porter and USS Ross guided-missile destroyers fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the Mediterranean at Syria’s Shayrat airfield early on Friday, in retaliation for an alleged chemical attack on Tuesday that Washington insists was carried out by government jets operating from the airbase.
“We have reports of approximately 20 aircraft that were destroyed,” a Pentagon official told reporters, noting that all of the missiles hit their designated targets, including some fuel and missile sites.
“We know that we have damaged petroleum sites. We have taken out their surface-to-air missile systems,” he said, giving no information on possible casualties.
The Russian Defense Ministry noted shortly after the US attack that only 23 had landed on the airbase and the rest had missed.
The suspicious chemical explosion in the town of Khan Shaykhun reportedly left over 70 people dead.
The US official told reporters that data from the time of the incident showed that the Syrian air force was behind the attack.
“At the time of this [chemical] attack, we have these aircraft tracks,” the official said. “They go from the airfield at Ash Sha’irat to the town of Khan Shaykhun. So we know the routes that the aircraft took.”
This is while the Syrian army has roundly denied using “any chemical or toxic material,” adding that it “has not used nor will use in any place or time, neither in past or in future.”
The Syrian government turned over its entire chemical stockpile under a deal negotiated by Russia and the United States back in 2013. The United Nations Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has overseen operations to remove the government chemical arsenal from Syria.
A day after the incident, Russian Defense Ministry’s Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov, whose country has been conducting airstrikes against terrorist groups in Syria since September 2015, said the Syrian jets might have hit a depot used by terrorists to make and store ammunition, including chemical weapons.
The US official, however, insisted on Friday that “there is no credible alternative to the Syrian regime air attack as the source of the chemicals that killed so many Syrian civilians.”