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View From Damascus


Pleased now to be joined by Seth Doane of CBS News, who's in Damascus. Seth, thanks so much for being with us.

SETH DOANE: Thanks for having me. It has been a busy couple of hours here, as you've seen.

SIMON: Well, tell us about the - tell us about your morning. What did you see? What did you hear?

DOANE: We were awakened just before 4 o'clock with a little advance warning that the president was about to speak, so we were standing on a balcony in our hotel here in central Damascus looking out over the city at around 4 o'clock in the morning local time as in one ear I was listening to President Trump's speech, giving his rationale for moving forward with the U.S. and coalition strikes. In one ear, I was listening to the president, and in the other ear, I was hearing the airstrikes falling around Damascus. We were looking up in the early morning, the night sky here in Damascus and seeing flares shot up - also seeing some and hearing some anti-aircraft fire.

The Syrians, this morning, have been putting their spin on things, saying that the U.S. was not as successful as they might have been. Some of these airstrikes missed their targets. They've also been - the Syrians have been pleased with the number of missiles that they say they were able to fire out of the sky. But as we were standing there on that balcony for more than an hour, really, that this went on, we were just hearing these loud airstrikes. You could hear - it almost sounded like thunder, but instead of clapping in the sky, it was almost this thunderous clapping on the horizon.

SIMON: Recognizing that there is satellite imaging that will make the ultimate - and intelligence information that's going to figure this out in the end, what could you tell about the success of hitting specific targets last night?

DOANE: Well, we are trying to get - I'm standing in Barzah, which is right in front of - it's a part of Damascus here right in front of the - one of the facilities, a research facility that was targeted early this morning. We're trying to get in to see the damage for ourselves. We have seen some pictures emerging via Syrian state television of the aftermath. Certainly, you're seeing destroyed buildings, and the Syrians are saying - their spin on it is that in many cases the U.S. and the coalition partners were not as successful as that they might have been in terms of really degrading, downgrading their military abilities.

But, of course, this is just the first day after these strikes, this bombardment. And the Syrians are still very much picking up the pieces. They're trying to ascertain what happened but striking a very defiant tone. You've probably have seen and discussed those images that we saw of the president - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that were released today of him walking into that building apparently unfazed - that was the message presumably being sent - unfazed by these strikes.

SIMON: He was in a - he was in what looked like a business suit and carrying a briefcase.

DOANE: Yes. There were a couple of different images edited together - hard, of course, to know if that was indeed taken this morning. The takeaway in looking at it just on social media earlier this morning was that the palace, the presidency, the Syrian presidency, wanted to give the idea of business as usual. But yes, President Assad walking, kind of strolling all alone through those big rooms there.

SIMON: And, Seth, in the half a minute we have left, certainly the Assad regime thought they were very close to prevailing in the civil war, didn't they? Are they still?

DOANE: Yeah. That's what's interesting here. We - I was just here in Syria maybe two months ago and we were watching and reporting, going to the front lines. We got to Douma and watching the progress that the Syrians had been making and the Russian allies, of course, Iranians as well, in making advances into that suburb. And that has really been the narrative here in Syria. The focus has been on the gains that the Syrian government has been making on the battlefield. So the question here - the real worry in the lead-up in the reporting we were getting here was there was a fear that could this - could a coalition or a U.S. missile strike, airstrike, could that enter this conflict that's dragged on for...

SIMON: Thanks.

DOANE: ...Into eight years now? Could it enter a new phase?

SIMON: Seth Doane of CBS News. Thanks so much.

DOANE: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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