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The secret Syrian visit by top U.S. commander

Updated at 2016-05-27 20:49:15 UTC

It wasn’t a secret military mission in the strictest sense of the term. After all, news reporters were along for the trip.

Nonetheless, the recent 11-hour trip into Syria by Army Gen. Joseph Votel was very much a secret. The members of the press had agreed for security reasons not to reveal the visit until after Votel had left the country.

Votel’s mission was for the worthy purpose of building and strengthening alliances against the Islamic State.

The general is the commander of U.S. Central Command, which includes the Middle East and stretches into parts of central Asia and northern Africa.

He is the highest-ranking U.S. officer to enter Syria since the U.S. began airstrikes against the IS in Syria in September 2014.

The Associated Press reported Votel met with U.S. military advisers working with Syrian and with leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella group supported by the U.S. that’s made up mostly of Kurdish and some Arab fighters.

The U.S. has about 200 advisors in Syria working to train forces to challenge Islamic State, but President Barack Obama has ruled out committing American ground combat troops there.

That presents the challenge for military leaders to create a specialized strategy of working to prepare alliance personnel for combat on the ground rather than to mobilize U.S. forces.

The Syrian Democratic Forces has an estimated 25,000 Syrian Kurds and about 5,000-6,000 Syrian Arabs.

The U.S. hopes to increase the number of Arab fighters, according to the AP.

Votel’s trip to Syria included opportunities for the news media accompanying him to interview Syrian Arab commanders.

They spoke of momentum they have gained against fighting IS, but said they needed more help from the U.S.-led coalition that opposes IS in Syria.

Qarhaman Hasan, the deputy commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces, listed his key weapons needs, including armored vehicles and heavy weapons such as machine guns, rocket launchers and mortars.

Votel’s visit to Syria obviously was carefully planned and appears to have been carried out with military precision. We very much hope it will accomplish all the goals that were sought.

The president has said the fight against Islamic State is a high priority for him. His desire to avoid committing ground combat troops in Syria is understandable, and will meet with approval by those who don’t want to risk U.S. casualties in Syria.

However, the fight to reduce the threat of IS is crucial, and the U.S. should be prepared to provide weapons to its allies who are fighting the ground battle.

We would assume discussions about weaponry was a major topic of conversation with Votel during his time in Syria. His trip to the war-torn country was impressive, and we hope it will turn out to be fruitful.  Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

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