President Donald Trump insists he "never said when an attack on Syria would take place" in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack, tweeting that "it could be very soon or not so soon at all."
A day after warning that "missiles will be coming" to Syria, Trump also said Thursday "the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region" of Islamic State.
The White House has said Trump is considering striking Syria with missiles as one option to retaliate for the latest alleged chemical attack blamed on Syria’s government forces. Scores of people were killed or sickened in the attack Saturday in the town of Douma, in eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus. Syria has denied using chemical weapons.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday France has "proof" that chemical weapons were used by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's regime. He said France will respond at the time of its choosing.
Officials and analysts in Washington say a robust, U.S.-led retaliatory military response is expected within days.
Speaking at a House Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis promised communication to Congress prior to any attack on Syria.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she supports sending a message that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable but her country will not take part in any military action.
After Russia's ambassador to Lebanon said this week Russian forces would shoot down any missiles fired at Syria, Trump said on Twitter Wednesday that the Russians should be ready, "because they will be coming."
Secretary Mattis on Wednesday said while intelligence about the attack in Syria is still being assessed, “we stand ready to provide military options if they're appropriate as the president determined."
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May convened an emergency Cabinet meeting Thursday to discuss what role Britain will play in any response to the situation in Syrian.
The Kremlin has called on all parties involved in Syria to refrain from actions that could destabilize the region.
Syrian rebels claim government forces dropped barrel bombs containing poisonous chemicals on civilians in Douma.
Russia’s military announced on Thursday that the Syrian government is now in full control of the area.
More than 2,000 U.S. troops are in Syria, where a U.S.-led coalition has launched thousands of airstrikes — mostly on Islamic State and other extremists.
The USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, with about 6,500 sailors, departed Norfolk in Virginia on Wednesday for what the U.S. navy termed a routine deployment to Europe and the Middle East. A U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer, the Donald Cook, departed Cyprus on Monday in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Cook and the USS Porter, on April 7 last year, together launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the Mediterranean at Syria’s Shayrat airbase in response to a chemical attack three days prior that killed at least 74 people and sickened hundreds.
The Porter is also in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations, which includes the Mediterranean.
VOA's Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.