You can now read 5 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

US officials weigh potential responses to attack in Syria

Activists wore gas masks as they looked for dead bodies and collected samples to check for chemical weapon use.

REUTERS

Activists wore gas masks as they looked for dead bodies and collected samples to check for chemical weapon use.

WASHINGTON — The day after a deadly assault in Syria that bore many of the hallmarks of a chemical weapons attack, a sharply divided Obama administration began weighing potential military responses Thursday to President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Senior officials from the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence agencies met for three and a half hours at the White House on Thursday to deliberate over options, which officials say could range from a cruise missile strike to a more sustained air campaign against Syria.

Continue reading below

The meeting broke up without any decision, according to senior officials, amid signs of a deepening division between those who advocate sending Assad a harsh message and those who argue that military action now would be reckless and ill timed.

Although the Obama administration said it would wait for the findings of a U.N. investigation of the attack, U.S. officials spoke in strikingly tougher terms about what might happen if President Barack Obama were to determine that chemical weapons were used.

“If these reports are true, it would be an outrageous and flagrant use of chemical weapons by the regime,” said Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman. “The president, of course, has a range of options that we’ve talked about before that he can certainly consider.”

Continue reading it below

The United States first confirmed that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons early this year, and Obama administration officials responded by signaling they would supply the rebels with weapons. But to date, none have arrived.

Among the options discussed at the White House, officials said, was a cruise missile strike, where the United States has two destroyers deployed.

The Pentagon also has combat aircraft deployed in the Middle East and in Europe that could be used in an air campaign against Syria.

Senior military officials, in particular Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have cited the risks and costs of large-scale military intervention, as has been urged by some members of Congress.

Yet the greater political risk now might be to Obama’s credibility, analysts said, given that he laid down a red line last summer to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons again.

Loading comments...
Subscriber Log In

We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles'

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Already a subscriber?
Your city. Your stories. Your Globe.
Yours FREE for two weeks.
Enjoy free unlimited access to Globe.com for the next two weeks.
Limited time only - No credit card required!
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.
Thanks & Welcome to Globe.com
You now have unlimited access for the next two weeks.
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.