US pitches plan to Russia to avoid armed conflict in Syria

The United States has sought mostly to limit its involvement in Syria to operations against the extremist group, hoping to avoid being pulled into the larger civil conflict.

The defense secretary, a retired Marine general, appeared alongside Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford - who also Friday was reappointed to another two-year term - and Brett McGurk, the State Department's special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS to present an updated plan for Operation Inherent Resolve, the military's name for the fight against ISIS. Russian forces entered Syria in 2015 to help shore up the Syrian regime against opposition forces, a year after the US began its anti-ISIS campaign there. "I'm working very closely with more than 60 of my counterparts to expand the coalition that we have in dealing with ISIS, and our priority clearly is to prevent attacks against the homeland", he said. He did say that it would address the presence of a Syrian government pocket in Deir ez-Zor, halfway down the Euphrates River between the IS (formerly ISIS/ISIL) stronghold of Raqqa and the Iraqi border.

"We had a proposal that we're working on with the Russians right now", Dunford said. Advisers with the Pentagon-backed Maghawir Al-Thawra militia group in the town of Tanf called in the strike.

A USA military official told CNN that "there was no way" such a tactical decision would have taken place without direct approval from the White House during the Obama administration.

Mattis said that President Donald Trump ordered an "accelerated" operation against ISIS, noting two significant changes that resulted from Trump's review of the Pentagon's findings.

"We are going to continue to work the issue", Mattis said during a news conference at the Pentagon.

The military's top leaders credit Trump for delegating authority and directing efforts to surround ISIS fighters. USA officials have increasingly seen ISIS leadership leave Raqqa for Deir ez-Zor as the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces begin closing in on Raqqa.

"The end of the phony caliphate is coming into sight", he told reporters.

Mattis said that the rules of engagement remain the same.

"We're going to continue to breed the same kind of pressure internationally that we've been trying to".

McGurk, meanwhile, said the ability to quickly make a decision without seeking approval in Washington has "made a difference".

Trump also authorized the delivery of weapons and supplies to the Kurdish component of the SDF, and allowed U.S. advisers to accompany local forces at battalion level, closer to the battle, Dunford said.

Both Mattis and Dunford said that the delay in providing arms to the YPG has in no way been a setback for the Raqqa siege.

"By taking the time up front to surround these locations, instead of simply shoving them from one [location] to another and actually reinforcing them as they fall back. we now take the time to surround them", Mattis said in response to a question about the shift. "The lads know they're not part of a life insurance corporation".

"I'm confident that our military forces are carrying out the intent, which is that they do not put themselves forward to do the job the partnered forces actually want to do, but they need our support in doing".

  • Leroy Wright