Top US commander makes secret visit to Syria

Top US commander makes secret visit to Syria

The top U.S. Commander for the Middle East has made a secret trip to Syria.

Army General Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, spent almost 11 hours in Syria, visiting locations where U.S. special operations forces are working with local fighters in the battle against IS.

He met US military advisers and the leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of Kurdish and Arab rebel forces.

The US says its special operations forces are helping train "moderate" militants in Syria to fight the government of President Bashar al-Assad and Daesh (ISIL) terrorists, many of whom were trained by the Central Intelligence Agency back in 2012 to destabilize the Assad government.

A small group of reporters accompanied General Votel on a flight from Iraq.

"I have responsibility for this mission, and I have responsibility for the people that we put here", Votel said a few hours after arriving at a remote military outpost.

The existing model of cooperation between United States and armed rebels fighting terrorists "is working and working well", claimed the general.

He also met leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the spokesman said, without providing further details.

The U.S. has struggled to find an effective ground force to take on IS in Syria.

The problem in Syria is complicated by the fractured nature of the opposition to the government of President Bashar Assad.

The U.S. troops are focusing on training small numbers of forces, then sending them out into the field with larger groups.

Meanwhile, the US Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter Daesh, Brett McGurk, tweeted that Votel was "preparing push to Raqqa", while Daesh leaders had been "reduced to audiotapes in the dark". They were quick to say the US -led coalition should pitch in more.

SDF Deputy Commander Qarhaman Hasan said he wanted armoured vehicles, machine guns, rocket launchers and mortars.

Washington has also deployed dozens of special forces to eastern Syria in what it claims is an effort to shore up local militant groups against Daesh.

"The visit of USA military officials to Rojava has nearly become a routine, especially since the U.S. is leading the worldwide coalition against Daash [ISIS], which heavily relies on Kurdish fighters", Amjad Othman, the leader of the Kurdish Reform Movement [member of the Kurdish National Alliance], said in an interview with ARA News.

"There's a lot going on", he said, adding they had operations in the Anbar Province, part of which borders Syrian and the Tigris River Valley, as well as around the capital, Baghdad. CNN was the sole TV news crew accompanying U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel on the trip and reported the event Saturday.

"America has the capabilities", said Sheik Abu Khalid as he puffed on a cigarette under the shade of pomegranate and pine trees.

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