US Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters that President Trump is legally authorized to order these Syria strikes — which were ordered without congressional authorization — under Article II of the Constitution.
It reads in part, "The president shall be Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States."
"We believe the president has ever reason to defend vital American interests and that is what he did here tonight under that authority," Mattis said.
Does that make this "legal"?
The Trump administration has suggested that they are, as an exercise of the President's inherent power under Article II of the US Constitution, according to CNN legal analyst and national security law professor Steve Vladeck the last time Trump ordered strikes on Syria.
At least judged against the constitutional text, historical practice, and contemporary understanding, this argument is a stretch -- but it's going to take a bit of work to explain why.
What does the Constitution say?
According to Vladeck, neither the text of the Constitution nor historical precedent conclusively settle when the president needs Congress to approve the use of military force. The Constitution divides the war powers between Congress and the President, and leaves unresolved exactly when uses of military force do and do not require Congress's sign-off.
Article I of the Constitution gives Congress the powers to "declare war," "raise and support armies," "provide and maintain a navy," and "make rules" to govern the military (and, perhaps most importantly, to fund all military operations), but Article II gives the President the "executive power," and makes him "commander in chief" of the military, powers that virtually all presidents have interpreted to give them at least some room to use the military without express permission from Congress.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Joseph Dunford said the US "specifically identified” targets to “mitigate the risk of Russian forces being involved."
Gen. Dunford said the normal deconfliction line was used in the run-up to the strike to ensure clearance of airspace.
"We used the normal deconfliction channel to deconflict airspace. We did not coordinate targets,” Dunford said.
The missiles targeting Homs were intercepted and did not cause damage, according to a reporter on Syrian state TV in Homs.
General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters tonight that this particular round of airstrikes are over.
"This wave of air strikes is over and that is why we're out here speaking to you now," he said.
However, defense officials made clear tonight in the Pentagon briefing that this is a sustained campaign, and strikes will officially end when the Syrian regime ceases its chemical weapons use.
Defense Secretary James Mattis said the selected targets specifically targeted the Syrian regime's chemical weapons program.
He said that, as of now, there are no reports of losses to the United States.
General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the strikes launched at 9 p.m. ET tonight struck targets associated with the Syrian regime's chemical weapons program.
Here are the three sites he listed:
- A scientific research center located in Damascus.
- A chemical weapons storage facility, which is located west of Homs, Syria.
- The third target, which was in the vicinity of the second target, contained a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and an important command post.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis is speaking at the Pentagon an hour after President Trump announced the start of precision strikes on Syria.
He said that President Trump directed the US military to conduct the operations with the goal of destroying the Syrian regime chemical weapons research and development and production capability.
He added: "Clearly the Assad regime did not get the message last year. This time our allies and we have struck harder. Together we have sent a clear message to Assad and his murderous lieutenants that they should not perpetrate another chemical weapons attack for which they will be held accountable."
Syrian state-run TV says there are reports of aggression targeting the research center in the Barzeh area of the city of Damascus
Syrian air defenses have also hit 13 missiles in Al Kiswah in the suburbs of Damascus, the state TV also reports.