President Donald Trump on Thursday attempted to cloud the timing of potential airstrikes on Syria, a day after indicating they were imminent.
“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!,” the President tweeted. But Trump notably did not rule out plans to attack Syria in retaliation for the weekend’s suspected chemical attack on civilians at the hands of the Assad regime.
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Trump on Wednesday vowed to thwart Russia’s missile defense system in Syria, warning that rockets “will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart.'” The President did not specifically refer to the attack’s timing in that tweet, but warned Russia to “get ready.”
But in tweeting about a potential attack, Trump appeared to publicly telegraph military plans — something for which he heavily criticized former President Barack Obama back in 2013.
Trump on Thursday also suggested he did not get enough credit for US gains against ISIS in the region.
“In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS,” the President wrote in the same tweet. “Where is our ‘Thank you America?'”
The White House said Wednesday that the administration had not finalized its decisions about a course of action in Syria.
“We’re maintaining that we have a number of options and all those options are still on the table. Final decisions haven’t been made yet,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said. “The President has a number of options at his disposal and all of those options remain on the table.”
Top military officials were at the White House on Wednesday afternoon to discuss options for Syria, according to senior aides. The national security team is expected to meet at the White House Thursday for further discussions, according to three sources familiar, but it is not clear if the President will take part in that meeting.
The White House said Wednesday that Trump “holds Syria and Russia responsible for this chemical weapons attack.” Defense Secretary James Mattis said earlier that day that the US is “still assessing the intelligence” on whether the Assad regime is to blame for the recent suspected chemical attack. Russia has blamed Syrian opposition forces for the attack.
Trump has consulted with US allies, particularly France and the United Kingdom, about a coordinated response to the suspected chemical attack, but officials say they have not reached a firm agreement on scale or timing. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, was convening a meeting of her Cabinet on Thursday afternoon, at which she is expected to make the case for supporting the US in any military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned against a missile strike, writing on Facebook Wednesday that it could destroy evidence on the ground and interrupt the work of international investigators.
“Smart missiles should fly toward terrorists, not the legal government that has been fighting international terrorism for several years on its territory,” Zakharova wrote in response to Trump’s Wednesday tweet.
Should the President follow through on his warnings of an attack, two US Navy destroyers armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles are in position and ready to be called into action, among other assets including jets and submarines.