Trump was moved to strike Syria by 'disturbing' images, White House says

The president received the intelligence Tuesday morning, Sean Spicer said.

ByPaul Blake
April 10, 2017, 8:19 AM

— -- President Donald Trump was moved to order a strike on a Syrian government air base after seeing harrowing images and intelligence on the chemical attack in the country last Tuesday, according to the White House.

The administration announced last Thursday night that two U.S. destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean bombarded a Syrian air base with 59 Tomahawk missiles -- a response to the use of chemical weapons believed to have come from the Syrian government that killed 86 civilians in the city Khan Shaykhun, including women and children.

Trump's order to send the barrage of U.S. missiles marked a significant shift from his administration's previous positions on Syria.

What changed Trump's mind over the 72-hour period?

PHOTO: Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, stands at a gathering where President Trump spoke to participants in an annual Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride in the East Room at the White House in Washington, April 6, 2017.
Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, stands at a gathering where President Trump spoke to participants in an annual Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride in the East Room at the White House in Washington, April 6, 2017.
Al Drago/New York Times/Redux

"Disturbing and tragic" images and intelligence from the attack that were "moving to him," White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters last week.

During Trump's daily intelligence briefing on Tuesday, he "began to ask a series of questions, began to get additional updates and assessment as far as what happened, why it happened, and then obviously options that were available," Spicer said.

From a conversation he had with the president shortly after the briefing, Spicer said that Trump appeared "very moved and found the event extremely tragic."

"I think, from the get-go, it was very, very disturbing and tragic and moving to him," he said.

Spicer would not say what was contained in the intelligence briefing.

"I think the president's comments that he made in the Rose Garden with King Abdullah pretty much speak for themselves, with respect to the disgust that he had for the imagery that he was seeing and the assessments that his team was providing with respect to the innocent lives, especially the children and babies, that have been killed," he said.

Trump characterized the attack as "horrific" and pointed out that it was "against innocent people, including women, small children and even beautiful little babies."

PHOTO: President Donald Trump and King Abdullah II of Jordan participate in a joint news conference at the Rose Garden of the White House April 5, 2017 in Washington.
President Donald Trump and King Abdullah II of Jordan participate in a joint news conference at the Rose Garden of the White House April 5, 2017 in Washington.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
PHOTO: In this picture taken on Tuesday April 4, 2017, SAbdul-Hamid Alyousef, 29, holds his twin babies who were killed during a suspected chemical weapons attack, in Khan Sheikhoun in the northern province of Idlib, Syria.
In this picture taken on Tuesday April 4, 2017, Abdel Hameed al-Youssef, 29, holds his twin babies who were killed during a suspected chemical weapons attack, in Khan Sheikhoun in the northern province of Idlib, Syria.
Alaa Alyousef via AP

"Their deaths was an affront to humanity," Trump said. "These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated."

The specific images that the president reviewed while formulating the U.S.'s response to the illegal use of chemical weapons are not known.

However, evidence U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, showed to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday provides some clues: photos of two Syrian children killed in the chemical attack, which used the internationally banned nerved agent sarin gas, according to U.S. and Turkish officials.

PHOTO: Nikki Haley, United States Permanent Representative to the UN, addresses the UN Security Council on April 5, 2017 in New York, while holding two photographs of Syrian children killed an alleged chemical attack.
Nikki Haley, United States Permanent Representative to the UN and President of the Security Council for April, addresses the UN Security Council on April 5, 2017 in New York, about the alleged use of chemical weapons in an airstrike on April 4, in the Khan Shaykhun, Syria, while holding two photographs of Syrian children killed in the attack.
Rick Bajornas/UN via Polaris

Syria has been locked in a civil war since 2011. Hundreds of thousands are estimated to have been killed in the conflict.

PHOTO: An unconscious Syrian child receives treatment at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic gas attack on April 4, 2017.
An unconscious Syrian child receives treatment at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic gas attack on April 4, 2017.
Omar haj Kadour/Getty Images

As recently as one week ago, the White House did not express concern about Syria's leader, Bashar al-Assad -- a departure from the Obama Administration's stance that Assad would need to leave power in order for peace to be brought to the country.

"With respect to Assad, there is a political reality that we have to accept," Spicer said last Friday. "We lost a lot of opportunity in the last administration with respect to Assad."

He continued, "The United States has profound priorities in Syria and Iraq, and we made it clear that counterterrorism, particularly the defeat of ISIS, is foremost among those priorities."

That position, of course, changed when U.S. cruise missiles destroyed an airbase controlled by Assad's forces -- the airbase that the administration believes originated the chemical attack.

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