ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT OVER THE PACIFIC — The Pentagon is moving naval forces closer to Syria in preparation for a possible decision by President Barack Obama to order military strikes, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel suggested today.
Hagel declined to describe any specific movements of U.S. forces. He said Obama asked that the Pentagon to prepare military options for Syria and that some of those options "requires positioning our forces."
U.S. Navy ships are capable of a variety of military action, including launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, as they did against Libya in 2011 as part of an international action that led to the overthrow of the Libyan government.
"The Defense Department has a responsibility to provide the president with options for contingencies, and that requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets, to be able to carry out different options — whatever options the president might choose," Hagel said.
He said the U.S. is coordinating with the international community to determine "what exactly did happen" in the reported use by the Syrian government of chemical weapons against civilians earlier this week.
"We're still assessing that," he said.
Hagel said a determination on the chemical attack should be made swiftly because "there may be another attack coming," although he added that "we don't know" whether that will happen.
Hagel said that although he is scheduled to spend the next week traveling in Southeast Asia, he will remain in contact with the White House about developments in Syria and planning for potential U.S. action.