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Syria airstrike: Trump declares 'mission accomplished' after chemical weapons targets hit

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Damage to the Syrian Scientific Research Center after it was attacked by U.S., British and French military strikes to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for suspected chemical attack against civilians, in Barzeh, near Damascus, Syria, on April 14, 2018. Damage to the Syrian Scientific Research Center after it was attacked by U.S., British and French military strikes to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for suspected chemical attack against civilians, in Barzeh, near Damascus, Syria, on April 14, 2018.

President Donald Trump declared "mission accomplished" early Saturday morning after the U.S.-led predawn airstrikes in Syria dealt what Pentagon officials called a "very serious blow" that "attacked the heart of the Syrian chemical weapons program."

While Syrian television reported that the nation's air defenses responded to the strikes, "none of our aircraft or missiles in this operation were successfully engaged" by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, said Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff.

"The Syrian response was remarkably ineffective," he told reporters Saturday morning.

The airstrikes included 105 weapons that were deployed against three targets in Syria in a multi-national effort that involved France and the United Kingdom. Pentagon officials said the missiles struck at 4 a.m. local time Saturday (9 p.m. ET Friday), but coalition forces began preparing for the mission hours before.

At a news conference at the Pentagon after Trump spoke on Friday night, Defense Secretary James Mattis described the strikes as "a little over double the weapons" used by the Trump administration to carry out a similar attack one year ago. That April 2017 attack consisted of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

“Last year the focus was on the delivery, this time the strikes went to the very heart of the enterprise, to the research, to development, to storage,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said. “We are very confident that we have significantly crippled Assad’s ability to deploy these weapons.”

Both Russia and Iran condemned the airstrikes. At a press conference Saturday, Russian military officials claimed that the Syrian military shot down more than 70 missiles during the mission.

While the Pentagon acknowledged that the Syrian military fired more than 40 surface-to-air missiles, McKenzie said most of the missiles were launched after Saturday's U.S.-led strike.

"No Syrian weapon had any effect on anything that we did," McKenzie said.

White stood by Trump's assessment of "mission accomplished."

"Last night, operations were very successful, we met our objectives, we hit the sites — the heart of the chem weapons program — so it was 'mission accomplished,'" White said.

Trump's tweet Saturday appeared to be referring to the success of the strike, but whether or not the Assad regime will be deterred from using chemical weapons again remains to be seen.

The U.S.-led airstrikes were launched in response to a suspected nerve agent attack April 7 in the city of Douma in eastern Ghouta that killed dozens of people, including children, local activists have told NBC News. Syria and Russia have denied any involvement in the alleged attack, and Syria has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.

Putin on Saturday reaffirmed Russia's view that the purported chemical attack was a fake, criticizing the U.S. and its allies for launching the strike without waiting for inspectors from the international chemical weapons watchdog to visit the area.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said later Saturday that its fact-finding team would continue a planned deployment to Syria to help establish the facts around the suspected chemical weapons attack in Douma.

"The Russian disinformation campaign has already begun," White said. There has been a 2,000 percent increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours, therefore we will keep you all abreast of the facts going forward."

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

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