By Debbie Gregory.
On a secret trip to Syria, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the new commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, said that he went because he felt a moral obligation to check on his troops and see, first hand, the progress of local Arab and Kurd fighters pushing ISIS out of Syria.
“I have responsibility for this mission, and I have responsibility for the people that we put here,” the four star general said.
The visit comes as the first of 250 additional U.S. special operations forces are beginning to arrive in Syria to work with local forces.
Votel, who has headed U.S. Central Command for just seven weeks, is the highest-ranking U.S. military official to travel into Syria during its war. This was the first daylight U.S. transport mission into Syria.
Gen. Votel’s visit to northern Syria was in conjunction with a trip to other countries in the region. It comes amid an effort by the U.S. military to accelerate efforts to bring more local Arab and Kurdish forces into the fight in both Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS.
The U.S. troops are focused on training local forces on very specialized tasks, such as how to call in precise and timely intelligence reports from the battlefield that could result in coalition airstrikes against ISIS targets.
A small group of reporters accompanied Votel under ground rules that, for security reasons, prohibited disclosing his visit until after he had left Syria.