The commanding general of U.S. Central Command (Centcom) visited northern Syria for several hours to meet with U.S. special operations forces that are training local forces in the fight against the Islamic State group (aka ISIS or ISIL). CNN was the sole TV news crew accompanying U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel on the trip and reported the event Saturday.
The secret visit was tucked into a larger tour of the region. The trip was under high-level security, which CNN agreed not to disclose in its report. The purpose of the trip was to educate local forces on fighting tactics.
The U.S. is sending 250 more special operations forces to Syria, as President Barack Obama announced last month. The move was the biggest expansion of ground troops in Syria and increased the current forces by sixfold, Reuters reported.
The special forces are "not going to be leading the fight on the ground, but they will be essential in providing the training and assisting local forces as they continue to drive ISIL back," Obama said.
Democratic presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have each expressed support for Obama’s decision. Republican front-runner Donald Trump has bashed the government’s previous efforts. "I think we have a president who just doesn't know what he's doing," Trump told CNN in October. "You either do it or you don't do it.”
With this trip, Votel is the highest-ranking U.S. military official to visit Syria during that nation's war. He was in meetings with top officials in the Syrian Democratic Forces, according to CNN, where they discussed arms and ammunition.
The U.S. government is also targeting the Taliban with airstrikes. Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was found in a remote area around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and “likely killed," the Pentagon said Saturday.