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 BoltonMaximum pressure is keeping US troops in Iraq and Syria Woodward book trails Bolton, Mary Trump in first-week sales Ex-NSC official alleges 'unprecedented' intervention by White House aides in Bolton book review 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 ShanahanHouse Armed Services chairman expresses confidence in Esper amid aircraft carrier coronavirus crisis Boeing pleads for bailout under weight of coronavirus, 737 fallout Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January 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 PompeoTreasury sanctions individuals, groups tied to Russian malign influence activities Navalny released from hospital after suspected poisoning Overnight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers 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.”