It remains unclear whether the United States plans to strike further targets in Syria.
“I suspect it depends also on what President Assad does," Tomas Valasek, director of think tank Carnegie Europe, told RFE/RL. "The trigger for the strike and the reason for the strike was quite obvious. It was obviously to make the point that chemical weapons are not to be used, that they really are off limits. So I suspect that whether force will be used again depends on whether President Assad takes that message to heart or not."
"The strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again," Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said. "The use of chemical weapons against innocent people will not be tolerated."
In being careful to call the strikes "targeted" and "to prevent and deter the spread of chemical weapons," Trump’s order may not threaten Assad directly, but it is "still a shock to the regime's system," said Jeff White, a defense analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East policy.
Andrew Exum, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy, said that while there is still much to be learned over the impact and reasoning behind the strikes, "the U.S. hand in negotiations over the fate of Bashar al-Assad is now strengthened."
"It's not so much about Syria, in a sense, as it is about the norms surrounding the use of weapons of mass destruction, and the United States and its allies have a very strong interest in upholding those norms."
Still, the strikes caught many observers off-guard, even though they are not the first by U.S. forces in Syria.
In September, a military base in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour was targeted. Sixty-two people were killed in the offensive and over 100 government soldiers were wounded. However, the Pentagon said the strike was meant to hit Islamic State (IS) militants and not a government installation, making the last U.S. military operation directed at an Arab government the 2011 intervention in Libya.
"Conversations are already under way," Tillerson said just before the strikes. "There would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people."