By Chris Lawrence
U.S. forces in the Middle East tasked with carrying out military action against Syria were ready to go this past weekend and were caught off guard by President Barack Obama's decision to first seek congressional approval.
Navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean equipped with cruise missiles had ramped up operations from the previous week, thinking they would be ordered to launch a strike as early as Saturday.
"I thought that was the night," a Defense Department official told CNN.
"We were standing multiple watches. Everyone was pretty sure it was going to happen," the official added.
He said the sudden change in direction from the White House late on Friday was surprising.
"The tempo went from 'go-go-go' to nothing," he said.
The official said key units are now in a "strategic, operational pause" as Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel make their case to Congress for a limited military strike to degrade Syria's ability to launch chemical weapons.
"No additional watches, back to normal business," according to the official, who noted that military forces would be ready if asked to take action.
The official requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information.
Hagel told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday that the military would be ready to carry out the mission, if ordered.
Congressional lawmakers have expressed a preference for a proposal that would put time constraints on any operation and prohibit the use of American ground forces.
Kerry was asked at the hearing about Obama's decision to go to Congress on Syria even though officials say he has the authority to act without lawmaker approval in this instance.
"What the president said was he felt strongly for us to be in our strongest posture, that the United States needs to speak with one voice," Kerry said.
The White House argues that delaying action in a bid to get congressional approval would ultimately strengthen Obama's position diplomatically.