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Top US commander for Mideast in secret Syria trip: Alliance

AFP , Saturday 25 Feb 2017
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The top US military commander for the Middle East made a secret trip to northern Syria Friday to meet a US-backed alliance fighting the Islamic State group, the alliance's spokesman said.

General Joseph Votel, who heads US Central Command (Centcom), met with leaders from the Syrian Democratic Forces in the first such trip under the new US administration.

In an online statement, SDF spokesman Talal Sello said Votel "visited areas under our control today (Friday) and met with several SDF commanders".

"The results were positive. We discussed the developments in the Euphrates Rage campaign and shared military matters," Sello said.

He described the meeting as "confirmation of US support for our forces".

An SDF source told AFP the visit lasted four hours.

Votel made a similar trip to Syria in May 2016, meeting with SDF commanders as well as US military advisers working alongside them.

But this is his first trip under US President Donald Trump's administration.

Founded in October 2015, the SDF is an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters that has seized swathes of territory from IS across northern Syria.

The United States has special operations forces advising the SDF on the ground in Syria, but no combat units.

On Wednesday, Votel told journalists travelling with him in the Middle East that more US troops might be needed in Syria, although he stressed local forces would be the primary force.

"I am very concerned about maintaining momentum," Votel said, in comments reported by the New York Times and other outlets.

"It could be that we take on a larger burden ourselves."

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