U.S.-Syria: Obama calls for Congress to authorize military action

5 Navy destroyers are in the Mediterranean Sea

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said Saturday that "a country faces few decisions as grave as taking military action" -- but that the evidence of chemical weapons use against men, women and children in Syria demands action.

"If we really do want to turn away from taking appropriate action in the face of such an unspeakable outrage then we must acknowledge the costs of doing nothing," he said.

"Our democracy is stronger when the people and their representatives stand together," Obama said. "I will seek the authorization from the American people's representatives in Congress. For the last several days, we have heard from the American people. They want to hear from Congress."

Obama appealed Saturday for Congressional leaders to consider their responsibilities and values in debating U.S. military action in Syria over its alleged chemical weapons use.

"Some things are more important than partisan differences or the politics of the moment," he said. "Today I'm asking Congress to send a message to the world that we are united as one nation."

The top Republican leaders in the U.S. House then issued a statement saying they are glad the president will seek congressional authorization for any military action.

In the statement, House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers said they expect the House to consider the measure the week of Sept. 9.

UK Prime Minister offers support on action

British Prime Minister David Cameron gave his backing Saturday to Obama's statement on U.S. military action against Syria.

"I understand and support Barack Obama's position on Syria," he said via Twitter. Britain's House of Commons voted against UK military intervention in Syria this week, in a humiliating defeat for Cameron.

Syrian regime forces are accused of unleashing a brutal chemical attack against civilians and rebel forces earlier this month, killing at least 1,429 people, according to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Before any missiles start flying, the president would issue an "execute" order for operations to begin.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would take that order and give it to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey. Dempsey would then send it to U.S. Central Command. From there, the order would go out to the U.S. ships that would execute the strike.

There are currently five Navy destroyers positioned in the Mediterranean off the coast of Syria. All carry dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles, the most likely weapon of choice in a punitive strike on Syria's regime.

Once the attack order hits the decks of these ships, missile launches would move "very fast," according to the sources. The crews on these vessels remain ready to fire, and target coordinates are likely already programmed into some of the missiles. The target list is likely under 50, including command-and-control sites and chemical weapons delivery systems, according to a U.S. official.

The Tomahawk is a land attack missile with a range of 1,000 miles. The newest Tomahawk variant can loiter over targets, circling for hours, and can be re-programmed mid-flight, instantly changing course.

In the 2011 NATO campaign again Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, the U.S. Navy launched 221 Tomahawks. Each Tomahawk costs approximately $1.2 million.

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