Nightly News   |  August 26, 2013

America builds a case for military action in Syria

Cruise missile strikes are one likely course of action against the Syrian regime, with possible targets being Syrian military officials and weapons systems. So far, the White House says no final decision has been made. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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>>> good evening. i'm lester holt in for brian. the white house says there is no question they did it. calling out the syrian government over a chemical weapons attack last week that killed hundred of syrian civilians. the language from washington today was exceedingly blunt. secretary of state john kerry laying out the case for a likely u.s. military response.

>> the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. by any standard it is inexcusable and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.

>> tonight the white house is gathering international backing for a possible air strikes against syria while u.n. chemical weapons inspectors have finally been allowed in to ground zero . nbc's richard engel made it into syria today. he is safely back in the turkish side of the border with a lot more on today's fast moving developments. good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, lester. some western officials believe that president bashar al assad personally ordered the use of chemical weapons . the white house said no final decision has been made about any u.s. military action.

>> u.n. inspectors in damascus. one of their vehicles shot by a sniper the after a brief delay they finally began their work interviewing survivors, doctors and taking samples. but this may already be a side show . the u.s. and others already believe the assad regime used chemical weapons last week on a scale not seen anywhere in decades. so america is once again building a case for military action .

>> there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons.

>> reporter: the likely action cruise missile strikes from four u.s. navy destroyers and two submarines already in the mediterranean. possible targets, syrian military facilities and weapons systems , planes and airfields, command and control bunkers, but not u.s. officials say president assad himself. and not chemical weapons stock piles. too risky. would it be legal? u.n. backing is unlikely without russian support. but a coalition of arab and european states along with the u.s. could be used to justify a strike. we traveled to northern syria today with u.s.-backed rebels. syrians tell us the united states has an enormous responsibility now. yes, this isn't america's war. and no these people here don't want american troops and for this to become another iraq. but they say, if the united states doesn't intervene now, bashar al assad 's regime will be encouraged to go further and use chemical weapons again. this man arrived at a camp with his wife and 11 children today. he told us he came to hide from the poison gas . and didn't know where else to go.

>> translator: it is a dirty regime he said.

>> reporter: but the most powerful word came from this 10-year-old a message she said she had for president obama .

>> translator: does he want his kids to be like us? aren't we just like them? when we get bigger, we are going to write, obama didn't help us she said. secretary kerry made it clear today the u.s. wants to help. and is preparing to act.

>> of the images of entire families dead in their bed. human suffering that we can never ignore or forget. any one who could claim that an attack of this staggering scale could be contrived or fabricated need to check their conscience and their own moral compass .

>> reporter: the syrian regime denies it ever used chemical weapons . syrian rebels tell us that assad has used them at least 30 times since this war began and this latest case was just the most flagrant. lester.

>> richard engel in turkey. thanks. there is some late developments out of washington regarding possible u.s. action against syria . andrea mitchell , what are you hearing tonight?