Hagel: Obama asks commanders to prepare options for Syria

Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelArmy taps University of Wisconsin to lead research into hybrid vehicles, aircraft While our foes deploy hypersonic weapons, Washington debates about funding Hillicon Valley: Democrats request counterintelligence briefing | New pressure for election funding | Republicans urge retaliation against Chinese hackers MORE told reporters on Friday that President Obama has asked commanders to prepare military options for Syria. 

According to the Associated Press, Hagel said the Defense Department “has a responsibility to provide the president with options for contingencies, and that requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets, to be able to carry out different options - whatever options the president might choose.”

Obama will meet with his national security team Saturday morning to discuss Syria, the AP reported.

Late Thursday, Obama described the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria as "a big event of grave concern" as advisors reportedly huddled at the White House to contemplate a military strike.

He did not suggest military action was imminent, but said his administration was gathering additional information about the alleged attack, which rebel groups in Syria claimed killed more than 1,000 people outside Damascus.

"It is very troublesome," Obama told CNN in an interview.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Friday said this week's violence in Syria was a “mass casualty incident” that would threaten U.S. national security if it's confirmed to have involved chemical weapons.

Earnest said the administration was weighing retaliatory options, adding that such an attack would change the president's “calculus” on whether to get more involved in the conflict that has been raging since March 2011.

“In this situation, when there are weapons of mass destruction involved — or when there is evidence that weapons of mass destruction may be involved — that would have an impact on the calculus about the impact that this has on our national security,” Earnest said. “Ultimately, that is the criteria that the president will use as he evaluates the best course of action in this situation, that is the best interests of national security.”

Citing anonymous American and European security sources, Reuters late Friday reported that  U.S. and allied intelligence agencies have made an assessment that chemical weapons were used by Syrian forces in an attack near Damascus this week, likely with high-level approval from the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

The sources cautioned that the assessment was preliminary.

--This report was originally published on Friday at 10:12 p.m. and last updated on Saturday at 7:53 a.m.