Pentagon, White House in detailed discussions on military options in Syria – US official
President Donald Trump is being briefed on the full range of military options in Syria, after the White House blamed the government in Damascus for the alleged chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians in Idlib province.
Among the options would be using cruise missiles to attack Syrian targets and “grounding” Syrian aircraft, an unnamed US official told Reuters on Thursday. The official did not say how likely US military action would be, however.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster have been discussing the matter, the official said. Mattis is due to meet with Trump later in the day at the president’s Mar-a-Lago retreat, where a summit meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping is underway.
Speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump said that “something should happen” with Assad after the chemical attack, calling what happened in Syria “a disgrace to humanity.”
“There is no doubt in our minds, and the information we have supports, that the Syrian regime under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad are responsible for this attack,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in Florida on Thursday, adding that “there is no role for Assad” in Syria after this.
Tillerson also warned Russia that it should “consider carefully their support” for Assad.
CNN reported that Trump has spoken to some members of Congress about military action in Syria. The president himself denied that report, however, according to Fox News correspondent Chad Pergram.
Earlier on Thursday, Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) announced he would oppose any military action without a vote in Congress.
“The President, if he decides to do something in Syria, he would come to Congress and ask for a declaration of war. Short of Congress voting on it, I’m opposed to illegal and unconstitutional wars,” Paul told Fox News radio show ‘Kilmeade and Friends’.
Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), however, called for Trump to attack Syria.
“The United States should lead an international coalition to ground Assad’s air force,” they said in a joint statement Thursday. “This capability provides Assad a strategic advantage in his brutal slaughter of innocent civilians, both through the use of chemical weapons as well as barrel bombs, which kill far more men, women and children on a daily basis.”
Damascus has denied using chemical weapons, saying that its jets targeted an arms depot where chemical weapons stockpiles were stored by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Nusra Front militants. The Russian Ministry of Defense has confirmed that account of events.
The strike, which was launched midday Tuesday, targeted a major rebel ammunition depot east of the town of Khan Sheikhoun, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
According to Konashenkov, the warehouse was used to both produce and store shells containing toxic gas. The shells were delivered to Iraq and repeatedly used there, said the spokesman, pointing out that both Iraq and international organizations have confirmed the use of such weapons by militants.