US President Donald Trump praised the "perfectly executed strike" in Syria carried out by Washington and its Western allies early Saturday.
The United States, United Kingdom and France fired missiles at the heart of Syrian chemical weapons arsenal in a show of force and resolve aimed at punishing the Assad government for a suspected poison gas attack against civilians and deterring the possible future use of such banned weapons.
"Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!" Trump tweeted Saturday in the aftermath of his second decision in two years to fire missiles against Syria.
His choice of words recalled a similar claim associated with President George W. Bush following the US-led invasion of Iraq. Bush addressed sailors aboard a ship in May 2003 alongside a "Mission Accomplished" banner, just weeks before it became apparent that Iraqis had organized an insurgency that tied down US forces for years.
Trump previously authorized a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assad's use of sarin gas against civilians.
The Pentagon said Saturday the airstrikes "successfully hit every target," rejecting claims by Moscow and Damascus that most Western missiles were intercepted by Syrian air defenses.
Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, said that "None of our aircraft or missiles involved in this operation were successfully engaged by Syrian air defenses." He says there also is no indication that Russian air defense systems were employed early Saturday in Syria.
The Russian military had previously said Syria's Soviet-made air defense systems downed 71 out of 103 cruise missiles launched by the United States and its allies. McKenzie said 105 weapons were launched against three targets in Syria.
Characterizing the strike as a success, McKenzie noted, "As of right now we're not aware of any civilian casualties."
Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said that the strikes were launched to "cripple Syria's ability to use chemical weapons in the future."
White stressed the strikes do not "represent a change in US policy or an attempt to depose the Syrian regime," adding however that "We cannot allow such grievous violations of international law."
She also called on Russia to "honor its commitment" to ensure the Assad regime gives up chemical weapons.
Before the Pentagon briefing, officials said Air Force B-1B strategic bombers launched JASSM "standoff" missiles for the first time in combat, evading Syrian air defenses. In all, the Navy launched a little more than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles from destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea.
Syria's chief allies, Russia and Iran, called the use of force by the United States, Britain and France a "military crime" and "act of aggression" with the potential to worsen a humanitarian crisis after years of civil war. The UN Security Council planned to meet later Saturday at Moscow's request.
"Good souls will not be humiliated," Syrian President Bashar Assad tweeted, while hundreds of Syrians gathered in Damascus, the capital, where they flashed victory signs and waved flags in scenes of defiance after the one-hour barrage launched early Saturday.
A global chemical warfare watchdog group said its fact-finding mission would go as planned in Douma, where the apparent use of poison gas against civilians on April 7 that killed more than 40 people compelled the Western allies to launch their attack. Syria has denied the accusation.
But France's foreign minister said there was "no doubt" the Assad government was responsible, and he threatened further retaliatory strikes if chemical weapons were used again, as did Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, who said the assault was a "one-time shot," as long as chemical weapons weren't used again.
NATO representatives planned a special session to hear from US, British and French officials.
In an address to the nation, Trump said the US was prepared to sustain economic, diplomatic and military pressure on Assad until he ends what Trump called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons. That did not mean military strikes would continue; in fact, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no additional attacks were currently planned.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin reaffirmed the Kremlin's skepticism about the allies' Douma claim, saying Russian military experts had found no trace of the attack. He criticized the US and its allies for launching the strike without waiting for international inspectors to visit the area.
But British Prime Minister Theresa May cited reports she said indicated the Syrian government used a barrel bomb -- large containers packed with fuel, explosives and scraps of metal -- to deliver the chemicals. "No other group" could have carried out that attack, she said, adding that the allies' use of force was "right and legal."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the West's response was "necessary and appropriate."
Mattis disclosed that the US had not yet confirmed that the Douma attack -- the most recent suspected Syrian chemical weapons attack, on April 7 -- included the use of sarin gas. He said at least one chemical was used -- chlorine, which also has legitimate industrial uses and had not previously triggered a US military response.
He said the targets selected by US, British and French officials were meant to minimize civilian casualties. "This is difficult to do in a situation like this," he said, in light of the volatility of chemical agents.