After a deadly chemical attack in Syria earlier this week left over 70 civilians dead — including many children — the United States has retaliated by launching at least 50 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase late Thursday evening, according to NBC News. The Trump Administration may have used Tomahawk missiles because they can be launched from great distances, reducing the risk of harm for American pilots.
Introduced in the late 1970s, Tomahawk missiles are long-range cruise missiles that can be launched from Navy destroyers from up to 1,000 miles away. They first became a part of American warfare during the Persian Gulf War in the early '90s, and they are known for being less explosive than some larger bombs that are sometimes used by manned U.S. aircraft.
Still, the Washington Post reports that the Tomahawk was likely the most viable option for U.S. forces in Syria specifically because its ability to be launched from afar, and because of diplomatic complications that would arise from launching manned aircraft from air bases in the region. The closest U.S. airbase to Syria is in Turkey, and launching aircraft from there would require consent from the Turkish government.
NBC News reported that the 59 Tomahawk missiles were launched from two U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea.
The average Tomahawk missile is 20 feet long and weighs about 3,000 pounds, and can fly up to 600 miles before searching for and reaching its target through a GPS system.
The missile is typically considered to have a high accuracy rate, but this has been questioned in the past, most notably in 2009 when Amnesty International condemned U.S. use of the Tomahawk during a military strike in Yemen, claiming that the missiles caused 41 civilian deaths. These accusations, however, have not been confirmed.
While the exact cost of Tomahawk missiles has been disputed, a 2011 report by the Center for Public Integrity states that the cost of each missile is approximately $1.41 million.
President Trump defended the latest missile launch in a statement from his Mar-a-Lago resort late Thursday night.
"It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons," he said.
The Tomahawk missiles were aimed at Syrian fighter jets at the Al Shayrat Air Base in the Homs Province of Syria. This is the first time that the United States has launched an offensive against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.