Top US Commander Makes Secret Visit to Syria

NORTHERN SYRIA—On a secret trip to Syria, the new commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Saturday he felt a moral obligation to enter a war zone to check on his troops and make his own assessment of progress in organizing local Arab and Kurd fighters for what has been a slow campaign to push the Islamic State out of Syria.

“I have responsibility for this mission, and I have responsibility for the people that we put here,” Army Gen. Joseph Votel said in an interview as dusk fell on the remote outpost where he had arrived 11 hours earlier. “So it’s imperative for me to come and see what they’re dealing with—to share the risk they are dealing with.”

Votel, who has headed U.S. Central Command for just seven weeks, became the highest-ranking U.S. military officer known to have entered Syria since the U.S. began its campaign to counter the Islamic State in 2014. The circumstance was exceptional because the U.S. has no combat units in Syria, no diplomatic relations with Syria and for much of the past two years has enveloped much of its Syria military mission in secrecy.

Votel said he brought reporters with him because, “We don’t have anything to hide. I don’t want people guessing about what we’re doing here. The American people should have the right to see what we’re doing here.”

Votel flew into northern Syria from Iraq, where he had conferred on Friday with U.S. and Iraqi military commanders. In Syria he met with U.S. military advisers working with Syrian Arab fighters and consulted with leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella group of Kurdish and Arab fighters supported by the U.S.

Full article: Top US Commander Makes Secret Visit to Syria (The Epoch Times)

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