WASHINGTON — Edging toward a retaliatory strike, President Barack Obama said yesterday he is weighing “limited and narrow” action against Syria as the administration bluntly accused Bashar Assad’s government of launching a chemical weapons attack that killed at least 1,429 people — far more than previous estimates — including more than 400 children.
No “boots on the ground,” Obama said, seeking to reassure a public weary after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With France as his only major public ally, Obama told reporters he has a strong preference for multilateral action. He added, “frankly part of the challenge we end up with here is a lot of people think something should be done but nobody wants to do it.”
Halfway around the world, U.S. warships were in place in the Mediterranean Sea armed with cruise missiles, long a first-line weapon of choice for presidents because they can find a target hundreds of miles distant without need of air cover or troops on the ground.
In what appeared increasingly like the pre-attack end game, U.N. personnel carried out a fourth and final day of inspection as they sought to determine precisely what happened in the attack last week. The international contingent arranged to depart Syria today and head to laboratories in Europe with the samples they have collected.
Video said to be taken at the scene shows victims writhing in pain, twitching and exhibiting other symptoms associated with exposure to nerve agents. The videos distributed by activists to support their claims of a chemical attack were consistent with AP reporting of shelling in the suburbs of Damascus at the time, though it was not known if the victims had died from a poisonous gas attack.
Residents of Damascus stocked up on food and other necessities in anticipation of strikes, although no signs of panic or shortages were evident.