The United States has opted to send a message to the Syrian government that it will not tolerate chemical weapons attacks. Washington launched approximately 50-70 precision-guided missiles April 6 at the Shayrat air base. The base, located southeast of Homs city, houses the two squadrons of Syria's Su-22 ground attack aircraft that carried out the April 4 attack in northern Syria — an attack that killed at least 88 civilians.
U.S. President Donald Trump said the targeted strikes were in the "vital national security interest" of the United States. He gave the statement at Mar-a-Lago, where he is meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson later said in a statement that Russia failed in its 2013 promise to dispose of the Syrian government's chemical weapons, saying that Moscow was either incompetent or complicit. Syrian state media responded to the U.S. strikes, called them an act of aggression.
The decision to strike only one air base signals that the attack is merely a warning and not intended to be the opening salvo in a major intervention. Moreover, that the U.S. missiles targeted the air base, rather than Syrian surface-to-air missile sites, indicates the strikes were not preparation for larger fixed-wing airstrikes.
But the question now is how Syria will respond. Loyalist forces could, for example, start interfering with U.S. operations in the country. The situation was already tense, but now U.S. pilots operating in the area will have to be alert to potential reprisal. The risk of miscalculation, which was already present, is now even higher.
Russia's response will also be important to watch. Though Russian forces are operating in Syria, they are not known to have a significant presence at the base that was targeted. Washington said it warned Moscow of the strike beforehand, but Russian media denied that claim. Either way, in the event there were Russian troops at the base, they would have left the area, recognizing that it was an obvious target.