WASHINGTON — The expected U.S. missile strike against Syria would be aimed at forces linked to chemical weapons as well as broader military targets, according to military officials and defense analysts.
Broad command and control and artillery and missile launchers, which can fire conventional or chemical weapons, would likely be targeted, analysts said.
The Pentagon would probably avoid targeting stockpiles, which could send toxic gases into the air and cause civilian casualties.
"We don't want to hit actual chemical weapons because of the dangers," said Jeffrey White, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former Defense Intelligence Agency official
The Pentagon said Tuesday they are prepared to launch an attack if ordered to do so by President Obama.
"We are ready to go," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said.
The U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet has positioned four destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean, each capable of carrying up to 90 Tomahawk cruise missiles, though most carry less during normal deployments.
The U.S. Navy fired 212 Tomahawks during the bombing campaign that helped topple Libya's Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
The campaign against Syria is expected to be more limited, aimed not at decapitating the regime but in sending a message and deterring further use of chemical weapons.
David Cameron has announced that the National Security Council has agreed "unanimously that the use of chemical weapons by Assad was unacceptable - and the world should not stand by" on Twitter.
The Prime Minister has met with military chiefs today to discuss military action in Syria, in response to suspected chemical attacks last week that killed over 350 civilians.
Mr Cameron chaired the 90 minute National Security Council meeting at Downing Street to discuss possible military plans drawn up in response to the alleged chemical weapons attack.
A UK-drafted draft resolution will be put forward to a meeting of the five permanent members in New York this evening “condemning the chemical weapons attack by Assad”.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “Britain has drafted a resolution condemning the attack by the Assad regime, and authorising all necessary measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter to protect civilians from chemical weapons.
U.N. experts headed to Damascus Wednesday for a new tour of areas struck by a purported chemical weapons attack, which one official suspects may have been ordered by Syrian President Bashar Assad's brother.
A U.N. official who monitors armed conflicts in the region told Bloomberg News that Maher Assad, the leader of the regime’s Republican Guard and the elite Syrian Army 4th Armored Division, is suspected of signing off on the attack that left hundreds dead last week.
Assad's regime, which sits on one of the world's largest stockpiles of chemical weapons, has denied that it was behind the attack, but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that there is "undeniable" evidence that chemical weapons were used in Syria. The official asked not to be named, and said the attack may have been a brash action by Maher instead of a strategic strike by the president.
There will be limited air strikes to undermine the Syrian government's war-making capabilities in coming weeks but Obama emphasised his reluctance to intervene in the Syrian civil war in the TV interview. The planned military intervention will be surgical and it's only meant to send a strong signal to the Assad regime that the use of chemical weapons against its own people is not acceptable. Up to a few hundred tomahawk cruise missiles would be launched from four US destroyers deployed in the Mediterranean, which is similar to Clinton-era military interventions for humanitarian purposes.