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Trump claims success in Syria, but chemical weapons remain

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Saturday declared “Mission Accomplished” for a U.S.-led allied missile attack on Syria’s chemical weapons program, but the Pentagon said the pummeling of three chemical-related facilities left enough others intact to enable the Assad government to use banned weapons against civilians if it chooses.

“A perfectly executed strike,” Trump tweeted after U.S., French and British warplanes and ships launched more than 100 missiles nearly unopposed by Syrian air defenses. “Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”

His choice of words recalled a similar claim associated with President George W. Bush following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Bush addressed sailors aboard a Navy ship in May 2003 alongside a “Mission Accomplished” banner, just weeks before it became apparent that Iraqis had organized an insurgency that tied down U.S. forces for years.

The nighttime Syria assault was carefully limited to minimize civilian casualties and avoid direct conflict with Syria’s key ally, Russia, but confusion arose over the extent to which Washington warned Moscow in advance. The Pentagon said it gave no explicit warning. The U.S. ambassador in Moscow, John Huntsman, said in a video, “Before we took action, the United States communicated with” Russia to “reduce the danger of any Russian or civilian casualties.”

Dana W. White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman, said that to her knowledge no one in the Defense Department communicated with Moscow in advance, other than the acknowledged use of a military-to-military hotline that has routinely helped minimize the risk of U.S.-Russian collisions or confrontations in Syrian airspace. Officials said this did not include giving Russian advance notice of where or when allied airstrikes would happen.

Russia has military forces, including air defenses, in several areas of Syria to support President Bashar Assad in his long war against anti-government rebels.

Russia and Iran called the use of force by the United States and its allies a “military crime” and “act of aggression.” The U.N. Security Council met to debate the strikes, but rejected a Russian resolution calling for condemnation of the “aggression” by the three Western allies.

Trump’s U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, told the session that the president has made it clear that if Assad uses poison gas again, “the United States is locked and loaded.”

Assad denies he has used chemical weapons, and the Trump administration has yet to present hard evidence of what it says precipitated the allied missiles attack: a chlorine gas attack on civilians in Douma on April 7. The U.S. says it suspects that sarin gas also was used.

“Good souls will not be humiliated,” 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 early morning barrage.

The strikes “successfully hit every target,” White told reporters at the Pentagon. The military said there were three targets: the Barzah chemical weapons research and development site in the Damascus area, a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs and a chemical weapons “bunker” a few miles from the second target.

Although officials said the singular target was Assad’s chemical weapons capability, his air force, including helicopters he allegedly has used to drop chemical weapons on civilians, were spared. In a U.S. military action a year ago in response to a sarin gas attack, the Pentagon said missiles took out nearly 20 percent of the Syrian air force.

As of Saturday, neither Syria nor its Russian or Iranian allies retaliated, Pentagon officials said.

The U.S.-led operation won broad Western support. The NATO alliance gave its full backing; NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels that the attack was about ensuring that chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the attack “necessary and appropriate.”

In his televised address from the White House on Friday evening, Trump said the U.S. was prepared to sustain economic, diplomatic and military pressure on Assad until the Syrian leader 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 planned.

Asked about Trump’s “Mission Accomplished” assertion, White said it pointed to the successful targeting of three Syrian chemical weapons sites. What happens next, she said, is up to Assad and to his Russian and Iranian allies.

Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, said the allied airstrikes “took out the heart” of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal. He said the missiles hit the “sweet spot,” doing the expected level of damage while minimizing the unintentional release of toxic fumes that could be harmful to nearby civilians.

When pressed, he acknowledged that some unspecified portion of Assad’s chemical arms infrastructure was not targeted.

A former officer in Syria’s chemical program, Adulsalam Abdulrazek, said Saturday the joint U.S., British, and French strikes hit “parts of but not the heart” of the program. He said the strikes were unlikely to curb the government’s ability to produce or launch new attacks. Speaking from rebel-held northern Syria, Abdulrazek told The Associated Press there were perhaps 50 warehouses in Syria that stored chemical weapons before the program was dismantled in 2013.

A global chemical warfare watchdog group, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said its fact-finding mission would go as planned in Douma.

Wind Farm showdown this week

WATERLOO — RPM Access has spent two years working on plans for Black Hawk County’s first industrial wind farm.

A group of property owners opposed to turbines towering in fields near their homes have been preparing nearly as long to stop it.

Both sides will square off this week when the county Planning and Zoning Board holds a public hearing and makes a recommendation on whether the Washburn Wind Energy project should be built.

Seating is expected to be at a premium for the hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday in Waterloo City Hall.

DeSoto-based RPM Access has developed roughly 17 percent of the wind farm projects which have made Iowa the third-ranked generator of wind power nationally and the top-ranked state in terms of the percentage of electricity coming from wind generation.

Subsidiary Washburn Wind Energy LLC has applied for a special permit to put up a 70-megawatt project with 35 turbines to be located south of Waterloo in an area generally bounded by Griffith Road on the north, Tama Road to the south, Holmes Road on the west and Iowa Highway 21 on the east.

The project also includes a new substation near the intersection of Washburn Road and Ansborough Avenue, underground power lines, a meteorological tower and an aircraft detection lighting system tower.

Washburn Wind Energy said it has all of the necessary easements and land leases in place for the project.

Company representative Felix Friedman said benefits of the project include more than $35 million in lease and tax revenue to landowners, neighbors and local governments over 30 years.

He said the project would power 26,000 homes while cutting carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel power plants equivalent to removing 42,000 cars from the road or planting more than five million trees.

Opponents of the project, organized as Cedar Valley Citizens for Responsible Wind Energy, mostly live in the southern part of the county and have voiced a number of concerns about its impact on their health and property values.

At an informational meeting last week, the members said they believe studies showing turbines can cause negative health effects in humans and livestock; reduce surrounding property values; and kill migratory birds and other wildlife.

Opponents also said shadow flicker and noise from spinning blades, flashing lights and the sheer size of the structures will diminish their quality of life. They are concerned about towers disrupting radio, cellphone and television signals.

Wind energy groups dispute claims of negative health effects from wind turbines, which have been operating in many places for more than two decades.

Jerry Steimel, who farms in southern Black Hawk County and has agreed to have 3.5 turbine sites on his land, said the turbine payments will help him make up for what has been a rough time for corn and soybean profits.

“I’ve lost a considerable amount of money in the last few years, and this project is absolutely going to help me pay off some debts,” he said. “If any of the opponents or any of my neighbors could put up a 400-foot tower and pay off a bunch of debt, I wouldn’t stand in their way.”

Steimel said he wouldn’t have agreed to put the towers on his land if he believed they would be detrimental to his hog finishing operations or would interfere with the satellite signals he needs to operate his GPS farm machinery.

While opponents object to turbines taking prime agricultural land out of production, the 22 acres slated to be taken out of row crops by the Washburn Wind Energy project is small when compared to the 129 acres of land the city of Waterloo just voted to rezone for a housing project near Orange Elementary School, Steimel added.

The Planning and Zoning Board will only be making a recommendation on the special permit. The county Board of Adjustment is slated to meet April 24 to give final approval or deny the request, following another public hearing.