Friday, April 13, 2018

U.S. Concerned About Triggering Wider War As It Weighs Strike On Syria

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis testified April 12, 2018, that the role of the U.S. in Syria is to defeat Islamic State militants, not get involved in that country's civil war.

As the White House weighs a potential strike on Syria, a key concern is preventing the country's civil war from "escalating out of control," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday.

Mattis said a decision had not been made about whether or how to strike Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, which is accused of launching a chemical attack that killed dozens of people last weekend.

Decisions will be made "fairly soon," President Trump said. "It's too bad that the world puts us in a position like that."

Mattis spoke before a House Armed Services Committee hearing a day after Trump taunted Russia, warning of an attack in Syria.

"Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and smart!” he tweeted, referring to U.S. missiles. “You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"

Russia and Iran back Assad’s regime in a complicated civil war that has raged for seven years.

Earlier Thursday, Trump softened his rhetoric. "Never said when an attack on Syria would take place,” he tweeted. “Could be very soon or not so soon at all!"

The United States is attempting to calibrate its response to be strong enough to deter Assad from use of chemical weapons without destroying his government. A collapse of the Assad regime could lead to a political vacuum in Syria and a resurgence of the Islamic State.

The terror organization has been driven from most of the territory it held in Iraq and Syria, but pockets of militants remain, and the organization has proved resilient.

Asked about concerns in planning a strike on Assad's regime, Mattis cited worry over inadvertently causing civilian casualties and avoiding anything that would trigger a wider war.

“On a strategic level, it’s how do we keep this from escalating out of control,” he said.

Russia on Thursday warned the U.S. to avoid any steps that could destabilize the situation there.

“It’s necessary to avoid any steps that may fuel tensions in Syria," said Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin. He added it would have an “utterly destructive impact on the Syrian settlement.”

The United States launched cruise missiles at Assad’s armed forces last year after a similar gas attack. The attack destroyed Syrian aircraft but left Assad in power.

Mattis sought to assure lawmakers that any attack on Assad would not distract from the administration’s key policy in Syria: the destruction of the Islamic State, or ISIS.

“Our role in Syria is the defeat of ISIS,” he said. “We are not going to engage in the civil war itself.”

The Trump White House, like the Obama administration it replaced, supports peace efforts to resolve the civil war at the same time it backs local fighters battling the Islamic State. About 2,000 U.S. military personnel are in Syria.

“Our strategy remains the same as a year ago: to drive this to a U.N.-brokered peace, but at the same time keep our foot on the neck of ISIS until we suffocate it,” Mattis said.

(USATODAY)



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