WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump and his national security team began laying the groundwork Monday for a possible military strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in response to a suspected chemical-weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians.
As at least one U.S. guided-missile destroyer moved toward the Syrian coast, Mr. Trump said he was likely to make a quick decision on whether to strike after seeing jarring images of dead women and children felled in their homes.
“It will be met, and it will be met forcefully—when, I will not say,” Mr. Trump said Monday evening before meeting with his top military leaders.
Mr. Trump conferred with cabinet members, then met top military leaders and spoke to allies about a possible response. A decision on whether to strike Syria could come Monday night or early Tuesday, he said.
During the day’s meetings, Mr. Trump was “outraged” by pictures of injured and dead Syrian children, said one White House official, a similar reaction to the chemical attack in the country last year that triggered a U.S. military strike. He was less interested in what type of chemicals were used in the attack than who was responsible, and the deaths of the women and children, the official said.
“We cannot allow atrocities like that,” Mr. Trump said before meeting with his cabinet to discuss the U.S. response to Syria. “We’ll be making some major decisions over the next 24 to 48 hours.”
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The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting on Syria that produced no consensus for an international response, but the chemical attack represented another failure of a 2013 international plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program, in which Russia assumed the role of guarantor.
The Pentagon prepared a series of military options for Mr. Trump, who said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran shouldn’t evade responsibility if they helped Mr. Assad carry out the strike.
“Everybody’s going to pay a price,” Mr. Trump said. “He [Putin] will, everybody will.”