Defence Department officials are developing plans for a potential military strike in response to a chemical weapons attack carried out by the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, according to multiple reports.
The New York Times and NBC News reported Thursday that Defence Secretary Jim Mattis was planning to meet with President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida to discuss military options against the Assad regime.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and military officers from the US Central Command have also been involved in the talks, according to the Times.
BuzzFeed News reported that possibilities for military action include striking the Syrian air force or specific military targets.
The chemical weapons attack in northwestern Syria on Tuesday killed dozens of people. US intelligence has established that a Syrian government aircraft carried out the attack, according to the Times, pointing to Assad regime culpability.
When reporters asked Trump on Thursday whether Assad should step down, he was somewhat noncommittal.
“I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity, and he’s there, and I guess he’s running things, so I guess something should happen,” Trump said, according to a pool report.
Trump also called the attack “egregious” and said that such crimes “shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also ramped up his rhetoric on Thursday.
He said that forcing Assad from power would require “an international community effort” and that “steps are underway” to make that happen.
Tillerson said the US is “considering an appropriate response for this chemical weapons attack” and that it’s “a serious matter that requires a serious response.” He also said there is “no role for Assad” in Syria’s future.
The Assad regime was supposed to get rid of its chemical weapons under a deal brokered by Russia under the Obama administration. The deal followed President Barack Obama’s 2012 “red line” in which he threatened military action if the Assad regime used chemical weapons. Once evidence surfaced of such an attack, Obama instead opted to cut a deal.
While the Assad regime has been known to use chlorine against civilians in recent years, Tuesday’s attack, which carried evidence of use of the nerve agent sarin, was particularly egregious.
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