Top general: Countering Iran in Syria not a US military mission

Top general: Countering Iran in Syria not a US military mission
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The general in charge of U.S. Central Command said Tuesday that countering Iran is not a mission of the American-led coalition fighting ISIS.

Asked by Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyFive ways Trump's Syria decision spells trouble On The Money: Trump announces limited trade deal with China | Appeals court rules against Trump over financial records | Trump expands authority to sanction Turkey Trump expands his authority to sanction Turkey amid Syria offensive MORE (R-Wyo.) about what the United States can do in Syria to address threats posed by Iran, Gen. Joseph Votel replied: “As you know, countering Iran is not one of the coalition missions in Syria.”

Still, Votel added, the coalition’s relationships with the government of Iraq and with the Syrian Democratic Forces “put us in a position where we can impede Iran’s objectives of establishing lines of communication through these critical areas and trying to connect Tehran to Beirut, for example.”

Votel’s distinction during a House Armed Services Committee hearing comes after Trump administration officials have said the U.S. military will stay in Syria past the defeat of ISIS in part to prevent Iran from gaining influence in the region.

Specifically, Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by USAA — Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies Trump pushed for her ouster Trump to tap No. 2 State Dept. official as Russia ambassador Giuliani pressed Trump, Tillerson for Turkish prisoner swap in Oval Office meeting: report MORE last month laid out a U.S. strategy in Syria that includes an indefinite stay for troops.

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“U.S. disengagement from Syria would provide Iran the opportunity to further strengthen its position in Syria,” Tillerson said in the January speech. “As we have seen from Iran’s proxy wars and public announcements, Iran seeks dominance in the Middle East and the destruction of our ally, Israel. As a destabilized nation and one bordering Israel, Syria presents an opportunity that Iran is all too eager to exploit.”

Pressed by Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardGabbard slams New York Times profile of her Krystal Ball defends praise of Yang: I am not 'a Russian plant' Gabbard backs Sanders proposal to ban advertisements during primary debates MORE (D-Hawaii) to reconcile his statement with Tillerson’s, Votel said he believes Tillerson was not talking about U.S. military objectives.

“My understanding, as the secretary of State laid this out, is he laid it out not as a U.S. military objective; he laid it out as a U.S. objective,” Votel said.

But, he reiterated, U.S. relationships in the region do allow for the military to “indirectly” counter Iran.

“I think I would characterize it more in that regard than us actively doing something militarily against Iran,” Votel said.

Gabbard, who has been highly critical of U.S. operations in Syria, was unconvinced.

“I believe Secretary Tillerson was quite specific in speaking about this within the justification of a maintained U.S. military presence there,” she said.

After the hearing, committee Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryFive ways Trump's Syria decision spells trouble Cheney slated to introduce bill to place sanctions on Turkey Pentagon space agency to request .6 billion over five years: report MORE (R-Texas) told reporters there are “a lot of legitimate questions” about U.S objectives in Syria.

“He’s clear his assignment from a military force standpoint has been to defeat ISIS,” Thornberry said of Votel. “But obviously you have that larger U.S. policy goal of containing and limiting Iran, maybe not necessarily with military force at the moment, but we’re going to have to-- there’s a lot more discussion to have on that topic.”

Updated at 2:39 p.m.