Top general: US military focused on collecting intelligence in Venezuela

Top general: US military focused on collecting intelligence in Venezuela
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The U.S. military is focused on gathering intelligence in Venezuela, the military’s top general said Wednesday, with the crisis in the country appearing to reach a critical stage.

“The situation is a little bit unclear today from our perspective between Maduro and Guaidó,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told the House Appropriations Committee defense subpanel.

The United States recognizes National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, and has made ousting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro — whose reelection earlier this year was considered illegitimate by much of the international community — a key administration foreign policy goal.

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“We’re doing what we can now to collect intelligence and make sure we have good visibility on what’s happening down in Venezuela and also be prepared to support the president should he require more from the U.S. military," Dunford added.

On Tuesday, Guaidó announced the start of Operación Libertad, taking to the streets with supporters to call for Venezuelan military support to wrest control from Maduro. On Wednesday, Guaidó called for a fresh round of protests.

On Tuesday, U.S. national security adviser John BoltonJohn Robert BoltonIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Overnight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds Trump officials say US efforts to deter Iran have worked MORE reiterated that “all options remain on the table” with regard to possible U.S. military intervention.

“We want as our principle objective the peaceful transfer of power, but I will say again as the president has said from the outset ... all options are on the table,” Bolton told reporters outside the White House.

Trump administration officials, including acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Overnight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds MORE, have thrown their support behind Guaidó’s gambit.

“The U.S. Government stands in support of interim Venezuelan President Juan Guaido and the people of Venezuela in their quest for freedom and democracy as they take back their country with #OperacionLibertad,” Shanahan tweeted Tuesday.

The Pentagon announced Wednesday that Shanahan is canceling a planned trip to Europe in order to "more effectively coordinate” with the National Security Council and State Department on Venezuela, as well as issues on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Shanahan was scheduled to leave Thursday to attend the change-of-command ceremony for new European Command chief and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Tod Wolters.

Shanahan also told the House Appropriations subcommittee that he, Dunford, Bolton and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Overnight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds MORE will meet later Thursday to discuss Venezuela.

“When people say all options are on the table, they literally are,” Shanahan said. "We've done exhaustive planning. There's not a situation or scenario that we don't have a contingency for."

Dunford added that U.S. Southern Command chief Adm. Craig Faller has been coordinating with regional partners on the issue. 

“What I have seen in unclassified surveys that have been done lately is, actually, U.S. influence in the region and the perception of the United States in the region is actually moving in the right direction,” Dunford said. “As we manage the crisis in Venezuela, we need to manage it in a way that continues that trend.”