US forces are now ready to act on any order by President Barack Obama to strike Syria, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday, as officials said an attack on Syria may come by Thursday.
The US Navy has four destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea that have the ability to strike targets inside Syria, and there are US warplanes in the region as well, Hagel said in an interview with BBC television during his visit to the southeast Asian nation of Brunei.
Hagel predicted that US intelligence agencies would soon conclude that last week’s deadly attack on civilians in a Damascus suburb was a chemical attack by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.
“I think it’s pretty clear that chemical weapons were used against people in Syria,” he said. “I think the intelligence will conclude that it wasn’t the (Syria) rebels who used it, and there’ll probably be pretty good intelligence to show us that the Syria government was responsible — but we’ll allow the time to come together to provide that information.”
Obama asked the Pentagon to give him “all options for all contingencies,” Hagel said, and “we have done that.”
Senior American officials told NBC News Tuesday that missile strikes against Syria could be launched “as early as Thursday.” Unnamed sources also said the strike would likely be limited in scope and last three days.
He added: “The US Department of Defense is ready to carry out those options. If that would occur, it would occur in coordination with international partners… As I’ve said, and I think [British Prime Minister David] Cameron, the president of Iran, leaders and allies all over the world have said, ‘let’s get the facts,’ and a decision will be made of what options will be taken.
“We are prepared. We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take,” Hagel said.
Also on Tuesday, the British premier recalled Parliament for an urgent discussion and vote on a possible military response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria.
Cameron said the crisis session will be held Thursday, when Parliament would traditionally be on its summer recess. A clear motion will be considered by lawmakers, who have been urging Cameron to consult Parliament before any possible action against Syria.
Cameron’s office said that the UK is considering a “proportionate” response that would deter Assad from using chemical weapons in the future.
The decision on the recall came as the military drew up contingency plans for a possible military attack on Syria.
Britain’s Defense Ministry also said that a planned Royal Air Force training mission involving British Typhoon fighter jets had been postponed. The jets were to have been deployed on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which could be a possible launching pad for a non-missile strike.
The Guardian reported Tuesday that “warplanes and military transporters have begun arriving at Britain’s Akrotiri airbase on Cyprus.” Two commercial pilots told the British paper that they saw British military transport planes and a number of fighter jets approaching the British airfield over the past two days. The build-up at the base, located less than 100 miles from the Syrian coast, is seen as a sign of the increased military preparation for a possible strike on the Assad regime.