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“We continue to refine our targeting based on the most recent intelligence, and the [Joint Chiefs] chairman assured the president that we would have appropriate targeting options ready when he called for them,” said Air Force Col. Ed Thomas, spokesman for Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We will remain ready to execute military options whenever the president directs it.”

The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and four other ships in its strike group moved into the Red Sea early Monday, U.S. defense officials said, describing the move as “prudent planning” in case the ships are needed for action against Syria.

Meanwhile, five Navy destroyers, submarines and an amphibious assault ship with Marines on board remain ready in the eastern Mediterranean.

Military officials acknowledge that a one-time operation might not be enough to deter the Assad regime.

“It is not that we will punch them in the nose and run away. We will punch them in the nose and ask, ‘Do you want more?’” an unnamed U.S. defense official said in a story Saturday in The Wall Street Journal.

Gen. Dempsey himself has advocated several times against direct intervention in Syria, writing in a July 19 letter to the Senate: “Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid.”

“As we weigh our options, we should be able to conclude with some confidence that the use of force will move us toward the intended outcome,” he wrote.