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UPDATE: U.S. launches missiles at Syrian base after chemical weapons attack

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Photo courtesy of NBC News. Photo courtesy of NBC News.

by COURTNEY KUBE, ALEX JOHNSON and HALLIE JACKSON

The United States launched dozens of cruise missiles Thursday night at a Syrian airfield in response to what it believes was Syria's use of banned chemical weapons that killed at least 100 people, U.S. military officials told NBC News.

Two U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea fired 59 Tomahawk missiles intended for a single target — Ash Sha'irat in Homs province in western Syria, the officials said. That's the airfield from which the United States believes the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fired the banned weapons.

There was no immediate word on casualties. U.S. officials told NBC News that people were not targeted and that aircraft and infrastructure at the site were hit, including the runway and gas fuel pumps.

"Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children," President Donald Trump said in remarks from Mar-a-Lago, his family compound in Palm Beach, Florida.

"It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons," said Trump, who called on other countries to end the bloodshed in Syria.

Trump is in Florida for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinpeng. Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster traveled to Florida with him.

Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster traveled to Florida with Trump. In Washington, Vice President Mike Pence returned to the White House after having gone home for dinner Thursday evening.

Ahrar Al Sham, the largest Syrian armed rebel group, told NBC News it "welcomes any U.S. intervention through surgical strikes that would deter the Assad regime capabilities to kill civilians and shorten the suffering of our people."

Tillerson and Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, have bluntly blamed Syria for the chemical weapons attack, whose victims included at least 25 children.

Tillerson told reporters on Thursday that "there is no doubt in our minds" that the Syrian regime was responsible for the attack. And in a combative speech at the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, Haley warned: "When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action."

NBC News reported Thursday that Defense Secretary James Mattis briefed President Donald Trump on U.S. military options, which included carrying out targeted strikes against those responsible for Tuesday's attack.

There was no immediate reaction from Russia, which Tillerson and Haley have accused of turning a blind eye to Syria's transgressions.

"Russia cannot escape responsibility for this," Haley said at the United Nations. "They chose to close their eyes to the barbarity. They defied the conscience of the world."

Thursday, Tillerson urged Russia to "consider carefully their continued support of the Assad regime."

Tennessee Senator Bob Corker issued the following statement on the attack:

“The U.S. and world community stood by as Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad brutally tortured and murdered more than 500,000 of his own people, and I applaud President Trump for taking decisive action following the latest chemical weapons attack,” said Corker. “It is critical that Assad knows he will no longer enjoy impunity for his horrific crimes against his own citizens, and this proportional step was appropriate. As we move forward, it will be important for the administration to engage with Congress and clearly communicate its full strategy to the American people."

This is a breaking news story. Refresh this page for updates.

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