Pentagon and White House Discussing Military Options After Syria Chemical Attack

U.S. official says options including a no-fly zone and use of cruise missiles are being considered. Tillerson: No role for Assad to govern Syria

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 6, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 6, 2017. AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski

The Pentagon and the White House are in detailed discussions on military options to respond to a poison gas attack in Syria that killed scores of civilians, and which Washington has blamed on the Syrian government, a U.S. official said on Thursday. 

The options could include grounding aircraft used by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces, the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

Such options would also include use of cruise missiles -- allowing the United States to strike targets without putting piloted aircraft in the skies above Syria. 

The official did not comment on how likely military action might be or suggest which, if any, options might be recommended by the Pentagon. But the official added that U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster had already been in talks on the matter. 

Mattis will presumably discuss the options when he meets with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida, the official said. Mattis is due in Florida later on Thursday as part of a scheduled trip.

Trump said on Thursday that "something should happen" with Assad after the attack, but stopped short of saying he should leave office. 

"I think what Assad did is terrible," Trump told reporters traveling with him on Air Force One. "I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity and he's there, and I guess he's running things, so something should happen," Trump said. 

Trump said on Wednesday that the attack, which killed at least 70 people, many of them children, "crosses many, many lines," an allusion to his predecessor Barack Obama's threat to topple Assad with air strikes if he used such weapons. His accusations against Assad put him directly at odds with Moscow, the Syrian president's principal backer. 

Trump denied a report on CNN that he told members of Congress that he was considering military options on Syria. He also said that he has not talked to Russian President Vladimir Putin since the chemical attack, but said that "at some point I may."

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday that he has no doubt that Assad was responsible for the attack. He said that there will be no role for Assad to govern the Syrian people, walking back on previous statement by the Trump administration that suggested that the U.S. would not seek a regime change in the war-torn country. 

According to a statement released by the Kremlin on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that it was "unacceptable to make groundless accusations against anyone without conducting a detailed and unbiased investigation."