Defense Secretary Mattis to brief President Trump on military options in Syria


Defense Secretary James Mattis will brief President Donald Trump on Thursday at Mar-a-Lago on military options against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's regime in the wake of a deadly attack which activists said killed at least 100 people — including 25 children — and injured 400 others earlier this week.

The White House and Pentagon have had detailed back-and-forth conversations over the past two days about options, including a National Security Council meeting Wednesday. Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster have had repeated contact about the best way forward in Syria, a U.S. official told NBC News.

Trump, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on his way to Florida, said "something should happen," when asked whether Assad should be removed from power.

See images from the deadly Syria attack:

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ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH A man carries the body of a dead child, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH People stand near a dead body, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
A man breathes through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatments, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
A man breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH Men stand near dead bodies, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A Syrian child receives treatment at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following an attack on April 4, 2017. A suspected chemical attack killed at least 58 civilians including several children in rebel-held northwestern Syria, a monitor said, with the opposition accusing the government and demanding a UN investigation. / AFP PHOTO / Omar haj kadour (Photo credit should read OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
A man holds an injured baby inside a Turkish ambulance as injured Syrian people enter into Turkey from the Cilvegozu border gate in Hatay province, near the Syrian border on April 4, 2017. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on April 4, 2017 condemned a suspected chemical attack in northwestern Syria as an 'inhuman' strike that could endanger peace talks based in the Kazakh capital. / AFP PHOTO / DOGAN NEWS AGENCY / - / Turkey OUT (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - APRIL 4: A wounded kid receives medical treatment at sahra hospital after Assad Regime forces's attack with chlorine gas to Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. (Photo by Abdulghani Arian/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - APRIL 4: A woman gets treatment at a hospital after Assad Regime forces attacked with suspected chlorine gas to Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. (Photo by Bahjat Najar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - APRIL 4: A child gets treatment at a hospital after Assad Regime forces attacked with suspected chlorine gas to Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. (Photo by Bahjat Najar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH A man carries the body of a dead child, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A crater is seen at the site of an airstrike, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Turkish officials with chemical clothes carry a injured man on April 4, 2017 in Hatay province, near the Syrian border. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on April 4, 2017 condemned a suspected chemical attack in northwestern Syria as an 'inhuman' strike that could endanger peace talks based in the Kazakh capital. / AFP PHOTO / DOGAN NEWS AGENCY / - / Turkey OUT (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Bodies lie in the parking area of a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic gas attack on April 4, 2017. A suspected chemical attack killed at least 58 civilians including several children in rebel-held northwestern Syria, a monitor said, with the opposition accusing the government and demanding a UN investigation. / AFP PHOTO / Omar haj kadour (Photo credit should read OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - APRIL 4: A child gets treatment at a hospital after Assad Regime forces attacked with suspected chlorine gas to Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. (Photo by Bahjat Najar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the conditions of Assad's ouster would be determined through the international political process.

"The process by which Assad would leave is something that I think requires an international community effort, both to first defeat ISIS within Syria, to stabilize the Syrian country, to avoid further civil war, and then to work collectively with our partners around the world through a political process that would lead to Assad leaving," Tillerson told reporters on Thursday.

Tillerson went on to criticize the attacks in Syria as a "serious matter that requires a serious response."

Mattis is expected to present Trump with a range of options, including:

- Grounding all Syrian aircraft

- Strikes against their air defenses

- Standoff strikes

- Targeted strikes against those responsible for the chemical attack in Idlib.

The Pentagon worries that U.S. service members — including the roughly 500 Special Operations personnel offering "support" and "training" for campaigns, including the current operation to oust the terror group ISIS from Raqqa — as well as others in the region could become targets in retaliation for any possible American military action.

The U.S. military is also mindful of Syrian air defenses' capability to take down a manned aircraft.

Syrian fixed-wing aircraft dropped chemical weapons on civilians in Idlib earlier this week, two U.S. military officials told NBC News.

The U.S. military saw the aircraft on a radar and watched them drop the bombs, the officials said. The radar soon picked up the flashes and booms in the rebel-held area of Syria.

The bombs hit a hospital in an area where the al-Nusra Front operates damaging operating rooms and injuring medical professionals, the officials said.

Soon after, civilians on the ground began responding in a way that is consistent with exposure to a nerve agent documented in horrific images of people writhing in pain, coughing and young children gasping for air.

One official said they believe there was a combination of two agents and while they do not believe one was chlorine, he would not say what they were.

Republican Sen. John McCain, one of the strongest proponents of arming the Syrian rebels, said Trump told him in a phone conversation that the president would make a decision on the best course of U.S. action after the meeting with Mattis and McMaster.

"I agree with him that this is appalling, outrageous what has happened. Senator [Lindsey] Graham and I strongly recommended grounding his air force," McCain said on Thursday. "Don't let those planes fly that are committing war crimes by dropping nerve gas on innocent men, women and children. And the great failure of the Obama administration was saying they were going to say something about it and didn't."

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