Speculation is rife about the possible timing of U.S. air strikes on Syria, after President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that he is considering a military response to the Syrian army's alleged use of chemical weapons. The administration now has to decide on the best time to launch a strike.
Obama, focused on his goal of boosting the U.S. economy and reducing the national debt, has been reluctant to involve the U.S. military in Syria. But he also had pledged to act if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crossed a "red line" by using banned weapons in the war against the opposition.
Political analyst Ilan Berman of the American Foreign Policy Council says there are reasons for immediate action, but also reasons for a delay. He said the Obama administration avoided letting the United States act on its own against the forces of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
"I think here, too, there is going to be a desire on the part of the Obama administration to make sure that it is not left to go it alone if it does move against Syria, to marshal support from the European states, in particular from the U.K. (Britain), France and Germany to make sure that if there is military action against Syria, it's not American, but it's allied action," Berman said.
Retired U.S. Air Force officer Sam Gardiner told Alhurra TV that coalition building efforts have stalled, but that the preparations for a strike are going on.
"U.S. forces are in place ready to conduct a strike at any minute," he said. "The British have flown six fighter aircraft to Cyprus and they are in place. The only thing that is not in place is a coalition."
A U.N. investigation team has yet to publish a report on its findings from the field in Syria, but the Obama administration says it has concrete evidence that the Syrian government used the banned weapons. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also has said the military is ready to go into action at any moment.
To some observers, like Jeffrey White at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, this means a U.S. military strike is imminent.
"It could come pretty quickly. It could be tonight," noted White. "There are some people who are talking about it - that it might be as early as tonight, but that doesn't allow for the U.N. inspectors to get out of the Damascus area, which is going to be the focal point probably for the attacks. So I am thinking [that it is going to happen] more likely over the weekend."
The United States said it is planning a surgical attack that is not aimed at changing the regime in Syria. According to President Obama, even a limited attack will send a message to the Assad government that it will be held accountable for breaking international laws.
Syrian President Assad said Thursday Damascus will retaliate for any foreign attack, sparking fear of a chemical weapons attack on Israel, Turkey, Jordan and others.