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tv   House Hearing on the United States Syria Strategy  CSPAN  October 2, 2018 4:33am-5:47am EDT

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running at each other in the house of representatives and several of them said this doesn't look like a normal congressional fight. this looks like north against south. this looks like a battle. that is really striking. indeed, it certainly did look like a battle and it's not that long before the civil war. >> sunday night at 8:00 eastern on c-span's q&a. up next, defense department officials have to buy on uss radisson -- strategy in syria. the subcommittee how this hearing last week.
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>> there was no investigation committee meeting this afternoon to take testimony on the u.s. strategy on sarah backus just just weeks ago our nation commemorated the summer anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. among the many consequences of that strike on the united states was the increased recognition of the dangers posed by a violent ideology targeting our nation and its allies and partners. those dangers remain. for decades the syrian regime has been known for its barbarity and support for terrorism. five years ago islamic state in iraq and syria emerged from the remnants of al qaeda in iraq. isis killed and pillaged. the goal of isis was to develop syria as a base of operations for global terrorist networks.
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isis has some initial success. the group quickly seized the territory including in eastern syria. while the united states continued to speak out against the atrocities of the syrian government isis posed the possibility of a ruthless anti- american terrorist group controlling a large and important region. therefore, the united states insisted some of those fighting isis assisted some of those fighting i suspect there have been important victory since march 2017. significant territory has been liberty just liberated from isis. nonetheless, it continues to pose a threat . the department of those isis is well- positioned to rebuild . the they could recapture lost territory. the goal of the united states is to prevent this possibility . the is essential that our nation carefully calibrated its response. the syrian situation is extraordinarily complex. turkey iraq, israel, and jordan are profoundly affected. the fact that russia and iran vigorously support the assad
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regime also complicates our efforts. in recent weeks the administration has suggested that some you as military forces will remain in syria. furthermore, wallace asad, russia, and turkey contemplate military activity in and around the last week pressure is sport -- -- if chemical weapons are used again. today we will hear more about these topics we will consider the administration's strategic objectives in syria and the relevant authorities and resources required to achieve them. we will hear about efforts to achieve a political resolution in the status of the u.s. counterterrorism efforts. we will also consider the humanitarian crisis in the region and the reestablishment of governance today's witnesses. i want to remind members that this hearing is unclassified. when we conclude we will recess briefly
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for an opportunity to discuss classified information and receive additional details from the witnesses. i will ask members to move probably to the second location at the appropriate time. with this administered a note out of the way i now recognize ranking member moulton for his introductory comments. >> thank you, madame chairwoman. think it will scare during this hearing due to the hurricane. and thank you to our witnesses for being here with us this afternoon. today we are seeking clarity on the trump administration's strategies for achieving you us political and military objectives in syria. while long-overdue today's discussion is timely given heightened intervention in the region by the syrian regimes top allies russia and iran. just this monday the russian defense ministry announced plans to equip horses with the
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-- missile system. recognized as a significant escalation in the seven-year civil war. in august iranian defense minister amira tani confirmed iran's memo to the hassan resume confirming iran would have a presence, participation, and assistance in the reconstruction of syria. increasing military escalation by russia in the province which has been temporarily averted on a russia turkey agreement threatens to exacerbate an already devastating humanitarian crisis with over 400,000 syria instead and over 6 million displaced. my question to the trump administration is this, what is your strategy? moreover, we don't even know what your long-term objectives are.
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i'm alarmed that the president's statements regarding his strategy on syria have been so overwhelmingly at odds with statements from his senior cabinet officials. earlier this year president trump stated that the united states would be coming out of syria, quote, like very soon" and that we should, quote, let other people take care of it now. naovely asserting that the ongoing conflicts in syria and the resulting humanitarian crisis there will no longer be of concern to the united states. in april after ordering missile strikes in syria the president tweeted him a quote, mission accomplished. although the accomplishment remains unclear. in an abrupt reversal senior administration officials recently walked back previous plans of an imminent pullout of you has forces in syria. earlier this month the u.s. ambassador to the united nations, nikki haley, warned russians don't and iran of dire consequences if they continue military strikes. what exactly does this mean?
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this week john bolton suggested the united states envisioned a permanent presence in syria to counter iran will secretary matus insisted our purses are only there to counter isis. when asked about the inconsistencies secretary matus told press they are on the same sheet of music. it is clear this is not the case. i'm also disappointed that we will not have an opportunity today to directly engage with the department of state to examine the administration's plan to support a political settlement in syria. usa special representative for syria james jeffrey recently called for a,? major diplomatic offensive. however, specific details have been sparse. defeating terrorist groups with no long-term plans for political civilization will only serve to perpetuate the cycle of violence and of repeatedly sending you us troops
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to conflict zones. it troubles me that much of what we accomplished in iraq has been undone because we did not have a solid comprehensive plan to stabilize the region and secure the peace. i'll add that this is not about partisan politics. i was equally critical of the previous administration for what i viewed as a lack of clarity in their strategy on syria. on the ground and have asked them, but they are fighting for. only to find many do not have an answer. it is unfair to troops, to continuously ask them to put their lives on the line without emission or clear objectives. although i did not agree at least i know what the plan was when i went out on patrol at night as an officer. in today's hearing we will attempt to secure answers to an array of open questions. which is where the capabilities and actors in the region -- i look forward to hearing what progress if any the
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administration has made towards putting towards a comprehensive strategy on syria. thank you. >> i am pleased to introduce our witnesses. the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs and u.s. marine corps brigadier general, scott benedict who is the deputy director of political military affairs for the middle east with the joint staff. we will begin with you. >> thank you, thank you for inviting us to participate. because the hearing is open, i will not be able to discuss many of the details of our operations in syria. in doing so it could undermine the operation and put forces at risk. we would be happy to discuss some of these issues in closed sessions but must err on the side of caution to avoid disclosing activities in the region. the government objectives remain unchanged.
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in syria, the united states seeks to secure the enduring defeat of isis and al qaeda and affiliates, deter the use of chemical weapons and counter iran's destabilizing influence. the united states seeks a peaceful resolution of the multifaceted conflict in syria in a manner that protects u.s. interests, favoring a balance of power, protects allies and partners and alleviate human suffering. the defense department's role in syria is limited. we are pursuing the enduring defeat of isis with a small u.s. military footprint and a by with and through strategy that relies on local partners. while we are not intervening in the syrian civil war because combat operations target isis, this conflict inevitably affects our efforts. the asad regime with russian and iranian backing every taken significant territory from the opposition which is subjective to violent depression.
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this -- facilitates enduring peaceful resolution to the underlying conflict. although in the military efforts and those of the local vetted partners have hastened the defeat of isis, advancing u.s. national security interests, we believe broader u.s. objectives are most effectively pursued to an negotiated resolution of the syrian conflict and humanitarian crisis. consistent with the security council resolution. as we have emphasized, we look to our colleagues at the state department who work in parallel with the united nations and partners to forge a lasting settlement, syrian conflict that includes full representation for all syrians including the people of northeast syria now recovering from isis occupation. u.s. government re-pains committed to end the war on terms that protect the rights of the syrian people and enables as a, voluntary and
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dignified return of persons and refugees to homes. recent appointment to the ambassador of the state department special representative for syrian engagement and joel rayburn as a deputy assistant secretary of state highlight the focus on diplomatic engagement. the defense department is eager to support the effort and in close coordination with and under the authorities granted by congress, they have made significant progress since 2014 when isis swept across and terrorized hundreds of thousands of civilians. my staff briefs the subcommittee staff on our activities on a regular basis. we appreciate the opportunities to solicit input and feedback from the committee as we work through these difficult and complex challenges. as you know, efforts have contributed to the liberation of 99% of the territory and more than 7 1/2 million people from isis control in iraq in syria. despite the progress, we
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assess that even after the defeat of the physical caliphate isis remains a stronger now than its predecessors when the united states withdrew from iraq in 20 -- 2011. fighting remains in the lower reaches of the valley and our hard gains in iraq and syria remain vulnerable. the enemy is adaptive even though operations against the last pocket of isis held territory in syria are underway, isis has begun his transition into an underground insurgency. a sustained, conditions based u.s. presence will allow us to prevent the resurgence. why simultaneously facilitating diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict. we seek to avoid telling the enemy when we will withdraw, leaving before the job is done, we do not want to repeat the mistakes that created the conditions for isis convergence in the first place. we are not alone, we are
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working by, with and through a range of partners to defeat isis. in syria we are vetting, training and equipping local forces such as the democratic forces who are leading combat operations against remaining isis holdouts. we are also supported, vetted with security forces drawn from local populations to hold and secure isis liberated territory. the 79 member coalition remains committed to the challenges in both syria and iraq. and is adaptive to their evolving ambitions and tactics. our allies are increasingly sharing the burden for ongoing defeat isis operations, stabilization and humanitarian assistance. since april the united states government has secured approximately $785 million in contributions committed from coalition partners to the funding facility for stabilization efforts in areas liberated from isis and northeast syria. including ,70 million from france, $18.6 million from the
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united kingdom and tillman -- 10 million from germany plus ,235 million in he minutes of -- humanitarian support from germany. we applaud these and encourage those to seek other ways to step up support for stabilization and diplomatic efforts to ensure safe and stable syria. and eastern syria, the united states agency for international development and the state department are leading early recovery and stabilization efforts consigned to consolidate and stabilize liberated areas. with support from dod, state and u.s. id are addressing the needs, removing isis to -- helping establish the security , economic and political conditions that will allow for the safe and voluntary return of displaced syrians to homes. the ability to code a ploy state department and usaid civilians next to the military forces, to plan and monitor
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activities alongside local partners remains a key aspect of success. in northern syria the u.s. is working with the nato coalition partner turkey to ensure stability and security in the region. we remain committed to a sustainable arrangement that ensures continued stability and addresses turkish concerns. the united states is working with turkey to promote local governance and security elements acceptable to all parties. including the people of mandates. we expect their concerns and are aligned in seeking an end to the syrian conflict and security with a resolution 2254 that respects the rights of all citizens and addresses the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict. we welcome reports of a turkish russian agreement to form a demilitarized zone but never the less remain gravely concerned over the potential for a major military offensive by the syrian regime backed by
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russia and iran that could increase the prospects of the use of chemical weapons and put civilians at risk. turkey shares these concerns. it remains to be seen if the effort to dissuade russia from supporting a major regime offensive will halt and we know that the previous agreements have been used as an opportunity for russia, iran and the syrian regime to rest, refit and resume the offensive when it suits them. continued support and willingness to partner with iran and syria reveals the stark convergences between turkish and russian objectives in syria. regime offensive would represent a dangerous expert -- and will threaten, not facilitate, diplomatic efforts to end it. the use of chemical weapons remains unchanged as we have demonstrated we will respond swiftly and appropriately to further use of chemical weapons
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to defend the national prohibition against the use of such weapons and deter further use. we urge the regime and the russian sponsors to refrain from using chemical weapons or risk the international consequences of doing so. the resolve is shared by the united kingdom and france and we encourage other international partners to join the diplomatic efforts to assure him from using these weapons. we continue to support international efforts for responsibility for use, mainly the decision to the chemical weapons convention to establish a new arrangement to identify perpetrators of chemical weapon attacks in syria. discounters russia's repeated use of veto power at the united nations security council and dismantle the u.n. and organization -- mechanism that found the regime responsible for chemical weapons attacks four times including april 2017 chemical weapons attack that killed and injured hundreds of civilians. we remain concerned by the
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significant military, paramilitary and proxy involvement in syria. iran's introduction of sophisticated military equipment into syria along with the entrenched iranian and hezbollah presents directly threatens important partners like israel and jordan. and risks escalating the tensions in the region. iran is no friend to the syrian people and its behavior in iraq is any indication, it is militia proxies an aggressive agenda will further marginalize the population, inflame tensions and sow seeds of for the radicalism. despite these challenges, the united states is taking steps to strengthen partners and create opportunities to counter the destabilizing activities. we are working closely with the department of state to expose the regional destabilizing influence through the material display and representatives from 66 nations have viewed the advancement of chemical
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weapons, we sure up defenses of our partners while working to improve the military defense capabilities against a range of iranian threats. take steps to reinforce vulnerable and fragile regional partners and maintain a regional force and military plans designed to deter and if necessary respond to aggression. we are not seeking war, that said, we will take steps to defend ourselves and work with regional and global partners and allies to address the full range of the destabilizing and malign activities. dod's engagement with russia and syria remains focused on military deconstruction efforts. conducted by military channel. preventing miscalculations an accident involving respective forces. operating in close proximity on the ground and in the air. although this tactical deconstruction has been a success, unfortunately, russia's overall behavior has been at odds with our core objectives.
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russia has enabled asad's use of chemical weapons and continues to hamper efforts to achieve a lasting political settlement to the conflict. russia has launched a concerted disinformation effort. and the campaign to discredit the united states and the international partners. flooding the media with fake stories to sow doubt and confusion about the reality of the situation in syria and hide russia's role in the asad regime's campaign of murder and brutality. the united states is working with partners across the world to expose and encounter russia's propaganda and disinformation campaigns. finally, let me thank congress for your advice, funding and the authorities provided to the department of defense. although the scope of the military activity and mandate is narrow, we have dealt with the devices and will do right by our troops and ensure enduring and lasting defeat. >> thank you, very much. now let's turn to general benedict. >> good afternoon, thank you
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for the introduction. i am brigadier general benedict from the joint staff directorate and i appreciate the time to take questions regarding aspects of our operations. >> thank you, very much. i would like to start before we get into specific questions, that we have a map in front of us and i appreciate that. could you go over with us what things he would like to point out about this? are you aware of the map? >> i don't know that i have seen the map. >> i have seen the map, i had it on the placemat for the secure setting but i can tell you from having looked at the map, quite often, i think a couple key points would be down in the lower portion, the area with a half circle on the border between jordan and syria in blue, that scenario
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where we have a u.s. presence with a partner force and you have an area that initiated in the northeast that is orange, that is the area where we partner with the sdf forces and you will see in the lower right, the area down close to the border, the final portion where the physical caliphate has shrunk. the tiny orange sliver, you have probably seen maps where it spread much over iraq, syria, towards baghdad, that is all that is left. if you go to the top of the map, the brown area, that is the area in the vicinity, the green area located is it lab, we will have the opportunity to talk about a few of these places today. >> appreciate that, while
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speaking about u.s. policy, jim jeffrey stated reducing and ultimately eliminating iran's military presence in syria is a primary use of -- u.s. objective. can you confirm it is a primary u.s. objective to reduce and eliminate iran's military presence and expound on what our troops are doing to carry out this mission? >> i think ambassador jeffrey and bolton and other senior administration officials have spoken at length about how concerned we are about the threat they pose to the region, how destabilizing activities inside syria have been, it is clearly a high priority of the united states to counter iran's malign activities throughout the region, including in syria. i would disaggregate however, the overall u.s. policy objectives from our military activities.
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our military operations in syria are squarely focused because the authorities we have been provided against isis and al qaeda. it is the case that our presence in syria our military presence has residual benefits our diplomats who are trying to seek negotiating into the contract and residual benefits from other adversaries. the purpose of the operation, the object is squarely focused on the isis fight. i think i would note analytically iran's presence and malign activities make it increasingly unlikely that we will see an enduring political solution to the crisis. we believe the political solution will be necessary to achieve the conditions that will allow us to secure and
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endure defeat of isis to prevent the resurgence of isis or another similar terrorist organization. >> that is concerning. the comment right there. in your testimony you say we are working closely with department of state to expose the regional destabilizing influence through our material display, can you explain more of what that entails? >> at the air force base, or joint based bowling we have set up a display of material captured from a number of better fields that partners provided us to help explain and expose the types of activities they are engaged in , we welcome members of congress coming out to see this display, we have brought a number of representatives from countries around the world, we think this helps to demonstrate the varied activities that we see
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international diplomatic support to protest, violations of security council resolutions that these weapons and material bring home. >> so based on your statement a minute ago, you are saying that the department of defense doesn't have any role other than ancillary to counter iran and syria, you are focused on isis or is there anything you are doing as a dod role regarding a run? >> in syria, our role is to defeat isis, that is it and as he mentioned there is a secondary benefit to our presence on the ground, certainly being on the ground and creating stabilized situations, limits through freedom of maneuver of anybody who has had malign activities as well as some of the violent
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extremists. >> what are the administrations current objectives in syria for counterterrorism? the principal primary is to secure the enduring defeat of isis and al qaeda and other associated terrorist groups. i can talk in close session about these activities but this involves unilateral activities as well as the support to local partners who are doing much of the fighting on the ground to retake the territory from these organizations and kill and captured isis fighters. >> how will you measure the destruction of isis besides how much territory the group controls because obviously now they don't control much. how are you measuring their impact? >> the range of metrics that we would look at and not just a job for the department of defense but for the intelligence communities and
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the whole of government, we have looks at the territory they control, the assets that they have, the number of fighters and supporters, freedom of movement, the extent to which their ideology and communications resonate within local population and across the region. and other more ambiguous factors. but in terms of the sheer numbers, we do measure their strength as still being verily significant. >> last question i have here for the chairman, does the administration have a plan to prevent the reemergence of isis? >> the united states military objective is designed to destroy -- and set the conditions for a diplomatic solution, economic solution and social solutions that will
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allow for the enduring defeat of isis and prevent its resurgence. the military can only play one part in that equation. which is why we are so encouraged by the renewal of the diplomatic defenses but ultimately, this will require our partners joining us and require the russians, iranians and syrian regime being willing to sit down at the table with members of the syrian opposition to bring about and into the conflict in a manner that creates more stable, more respectful conditions for serious people. >> very good, thank you. >> just to emphasize how bipartisan this hearing is and our concerns with regards to what's going on in syria, many of your questions are written down here on my list of questions, we did not share
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notes prior to the hearing but we have a lot of common concerns. i was wondering if you could answer, 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force, allow operations against iran? >> the 2001 is quite clear that it applies to al qaeda and associated groups in the 2002 was focused on iran, we are not conducting operations against iran, have not been asked to do so, that said i would note wherever we are in the world, literary forces have the right to self defend in the event that we are attacked. but under none of those are we envisioning or conducting operations. >> that seems consistent with what secretary mattis said when he stated right now
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troops inside syria are there for one purpose and that is under the u.n. authorization about defeating isis. that has nothing to do with iran, he has made that clear. you said in the previous question, we have to disaggregate our overall strategy which includes countering iran's influence in the region from the military presence on the ground, is that correct? >> i think we need to disaggregate legal authorities questions. and that there are many tools we use to contest a run across the region, there are aspects of our military operations or presence that can be useful in countering iran but we are not conducting military operations against iran is the point i was trying to make. as we have said, our presence in certain places can constrain iran's freedom of maneuver, empower diplomats to put more pressure on iran but
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our purpose in being there and our military operations are not being conducted against iran. >> if we are going to counter iran and we have an authorization to do so, we might have operations against them or simply have troops in the region? but either requires an authorization, if we are going to conduct operations against north korea, we will get a correct authorization to do so before we send troops in? >> i would defer to the lawyers as to the precise -- >> you are the best we have for lawyers. we are asking the question. the problem is, national security advisor jon bolden said that the united states plans to keep an indefinite military presence in syria until iran withdraws its forces. that to me sounds like we are sending our military to syria to counter iran, because the
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withdrawal is apparently dependent on actions of her on, not actions of isis. or the defeat of isis. it's dependent on the withdrawal of forces not on the defeat of isis or the withdrawal of troops or operatives from the area. that is what the national security advisor has stated. >> the guidance we have been given is we have a conditions- based approach in syria and our presence is focused on the enduring defeat of isis. but that's -- that's not what he said, the military presence will last in syria until iran withdraws forces. that to me sounds like an operation against iran which you just stated is not allowed under the authorization for use of military force. >> i think if we were conducting operations against iran that would be the case. but we are not. i think but the national security advisor and others recognize is as long as they pose a threat, as long as they
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continue to engage in destabilizing activities, as long as it continues -- it will be difficult to end the war. >> just to be clear -- >> it will be difficult for us to secure the conditions to allow the defeat of isis. >> what you are stating, sending u.s. troops to syria as part of a strategy to deter ironic and with the guidance that they will not be withdrawn until they withdraw their forces is not a military operation against iran. if i go and ask those troops, your mission is to stay here and deter iran until they leave they would say, that is our mission we are not operating against iran. we are not here as part of a strategy against iran because that would be legal. >> forces were sent to syria to defeat isis. it is true that there is a --
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>> why is there withdrawal according to the national security advisor dependent on a run withdrawing forces? >> he is making the judgment that -- >> this is not an analytical judgment, you are telling troops when they can go home. you are telling parents when they can come home. if your son or daughter was in syria right now, the national security advisor says your daughter can come home when iran leaves seems to me that is dependent on a run. -- iran. >> the guidance we have been given is that we are there to bring about the enduring defeat of isis. we are proud of the progress we have made but we understand there is a tough fight ahead and the diplomatic effort is going to end up being predominant. >> the national security advisor has given you different guidance and if
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that's what they are hearing, if that's what the american parents and families are hearing, and you have said that is a legal under the authorization given from congress and the administration has a problem. i yield back. >> thank you for being here, at one point in time there was a significant -- are those folks still there and can you give us an update? you say we have people there, can you give us an update on what it looks like? >> i believe you are referring to the rook bond cam? there is about 50,000 idp's in
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the camp. >> are the syrians allowing humanitarian effort coming in? >> they are not. >> the jordanians in effect are lifting across the line, supplies getting in. >> they are providing limited assistance. >> did they explain why they are making their own people suffer? >> we don't talk directly to the regime but there hasn't been an explanation of why they have not allowed humanitarian aid. >> that is a rugged part of the world, temperatures like the desert. would be fair to say those refugees, those syrian displaced folks are under some stress and misery? >> it is certainly agreeable that it's a rough part, rough area to live in. i imagine the conditions would not be very good.
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>> the regime led by asad, do they have the capacity and wherewithal to send humanitarian relief if they were of such a mind? >> we believe they have the capacity. >> there are no physical barriers, no blocking forces, no issues why they wouldn't do that other than he doesn't care about his people? >> the u.s. military has not provided any inhibition. >> you are not aware of any forces outside that would physically prevent humanitarian aid getting there? >> in the southwest corner our allies with israel and jordan have said no iranians in the area, can you tell if they are embodied by that? >> i think we would be happy to talk and close -- enclosed
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sessions, they are clearly concerned about the threat that would be post by an iranian residual presence, they have sought to secure the departure of iranian forces through negotiations with the russians. we do not have a presence in that part of syria. allies are not present on the ground. >> -- thank you, go back. you can get a second bite at the apple. >> i get a second because the other members are not on the subcommittee. >> recognize seth for six weeks. >> i will be brief. just one question, what kind of political and state for syria does the administration
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envision, how does the military presence support that goal? >> i would've preferred you to rayburn to articulate the specific diplomatic strategy and in state they envision. they have talked about it consistent with the plan or the framework outlined by un security council resolution 2254. and a process that inning -- that includes and allows for full participation. >> here's the key question, when i go to the middle east and talk to troops and i say what is your mission, what are you trying to achieve, my experience as they will say we are trying to take this town back from isis, this village, i will say what happens next, in other words that is your immediate tactical mission, what are you -- what is the
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objective you are trying to achieve, who will take over? a lot of missile -- people disagree with the war in iraq, we were taken territory back, for militias or whatever and handing it over to the government. there was a clear political objective to a strategy. you may have disagreed but we knew what we were trying to delete -- achieve. in the language that us here on the committee and most importantly the troops on the ground could understand? >> we have spent a good deal of time talking with the forces and they have an appreciation of what we are trying to accomplish and they also have better appreciation than we often do of how difficult this is. there are these immediate tactical objectives, retaking towns from isis, the longer- term objectives in setting up
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-- >> governance by who? >> by locals and what the military has been facilitating in conjunction with forward and international partners has been using the syrian democratic forces and increasing the percentage to ensure the towns that have been liberated by isis, that security and governance is provided by locals, that the structures put in place are responsive to and comprised and representative of local populations. all of that is then fed into this larger political process which we don't control we support. and that is about how do we put diplomatic pressure on the regime and russians to allow for a diplomatic process that is inclusive of all of serious opposition and can resolve the conflict.
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>> that is the answer the troops would give? >> i think they would see the immediate objective of liberating towns and a vast swath in syria from isis and i think they would see a connection to the need for a political in state so that the military fight that our partners have been leading is not for not. iran and the regime doesn't simply won't across the river and take back and repress the same villages from which they brought in the first place. >> so you are saying we will have local control of all these villages that we tactically take back? like re-creating medieval europe and syria and we don't know what will happen with the big picture, we don't know who will control the government, national leadership, it's up for grabs, we don't have any idea what is happening? or even what our goal or objective would be in determining that strategy?
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>> i think it is similar to your experience in iraq where we were trying to help iraqis take back their towns. the difference is however, this is taking place in a different kind of conflict. with a civil war that is reading. and we are not prepared to simply abandon our partners to the asad regime. so we are not seeking to create an independent country, we want to use the hard-won literary victories of the diplomatic forces as leverage towards a diplomatic in state. we cannot promise what that would look like. but our presence will help these communities have a better shot at securing political negotiations. >> is there anything you would like to add to that from the military perspective from the troops on the ground in terms of what they are trying to achieve?
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>> yes, thank you. i was just in rocca about a month or so ago. no question in my mind that the green beret italian commander understood his mission providing stabilization. also, the forces defeating isis is clear, and operational mission they understand with the intent.i think the last point he made this particularly important. the military mission is pretty clear. there was no -- from my mind from lieutenant to the lieutenant colonel, any question what they were doing, why they were doing it and they were seeing results of what they were doing in the stabilization and that been can contribute as part of leverage to a political settlement but no question, lasting defeat is their mission, they understand that, including the stabilization
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and conditions so isis doesn't come back. >> there is no debate that they understand the mission. my question is what is the strategic mission? what are they trying to achieve when they succeed with operational missions? and to use the analogy again, i don't think it is convincing because i think we had a strategic goal and political goal, we had this big debate dividing it into three parts or grab one central government, we resolved the debate. not everyone agreed but we knew what we were trying to do was empower a central government. that is my question and i guess your answer is simply that they know they are creating stability to support some sort of future government. >> yes sir and as mentioned the efforts of jeffries to get this back into the geneva and part of that process of having
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the discussions to get the players to the table, our activities and success we have had not only providing for the defeat of isis, the most successful operations being conducted against violent extremists but also the success we are having locally with setting up supporting local government, the reconstruction, stabilization and return of services, that kind of leverage plays into the negotiations that ambassadors drive towards a political solution. i believe they can see through the operational perspective and see the value of the effort they are doing towards the larger political goal. >> i recognize this is a difficult situation and you are in an impossible situation. having some clarity on the strategic objective rather than just creating the conditions for some sort of government, would be helpful. helpful to us, hopefully the troops on the ground but thank you for what you are doing.
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>> i am not sure how much influence we have on the political process in syria and i am sure we have little if any control over it. i have questions that you could not answer in this setting that i will save for the next one but i do have a question for you mr. secretary. getting back to the issue of authorization, it seems that because isis is in syria, that is how we justify being authorized to operate in syria, is that correct? >> that is correct. >> how many question -- countries is isis in? >> i couldn't tell you, i think the reality has been the largest preponderance of isis fighters is contained in iraq and syria, where they
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established territorial control, they have operated more under the radar hiding in populations and other countries. there is a difference in terms of the unique situation we have found ourselves in in 2014 were isis took over what was basically a swath of territory the size of indiana. >> so it is territorial control then that legality of the authorization is waned on. not that the fact that isis is there? >> it is the territorial control that isis has that facilitates were led to certain types of military operations rather than more intelligence or law enforcement activities. we also no longer had governance structures in western iraq or eastern syria, we were welcomed into iraq by the iraqi government which explains some of the legal parameters of our operations
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there but in syria, the previous administration and this administration has continued to rely on the 2001 a you a mess to conduct operations. this has been amplified specific authorities that congress has provided to provide support to local partners. the syrian democratic forces, for example. >> i don't think there was ever a win in syria, just looking at things for the united states. it was like a kaleidoscope every time one thing changed, something else changed, the russians clearly already had the higher ground just looking at the scenario, i want to go back to -- we are obviously there, the issue of the
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legality of us being there is based on isis being there and hypothetically, if we follow that through, if isis is in a hypothetical number, 20 countries, do we then have the authorization to go into those 20 countries? >> i think we would have to take a look case-by-case. at the situation on the ground. what was the capacity of the individual country -- >> can i ask you a follow-up, deeming congress or the administration? >> the united states, writ large and our operations and activities have been conducted and often in large consultation with the congress, efforts to support local government and fighting isis, we can't do without explicit authorities and support from the congress. monies appropriated for training and equipped efforts are provided by the congress and overseen by congress.
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>> i think respectfully some of that might be debatable. i am concerned that future administrations, i am close to this administration, the idea that just because an organization by certain name is in a country that that gives us the ability to say what -- because they are there i have the operation authority to do whatever i want to in that country and i'm concerned about the authorizations and i think it deserves further discussion but i have some specific questions but i will yield the remainder of time i have for the next setting. >> thank you for yielding back your 14 seconds. >> thank you, gentleman. it has been estimated by
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several sources and confirmed by general dunford publicly that there is approximately 20- 30,000 al qaeda terrorists and other jihadist terrorists that are holed up and control of the city in syria, we have recently heard in the last several days, threats from your administration of dire consequences for any military offenses by syria, russia or iran against these terrorists. james jeffries stated the u.s. will not tolerate an attack, period and any offensive is to us objectionable of the reckless escalation. considering the fact that you have noted many times just in this hearing that our troops are in syria operating under
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the authorization to use military force that was passed after al qaeda attacked us on 9/11 and that we are supposed to be at war with al qaeda, my question is, how is it the national security of the united states that rather than going after them and defeating them, the united states is making these threats and essentially acting as the protectors of al qaeda in syria and these other groups? how is this not a complete kick in the face and insult to the american people, all of those lives who are lost on 9/11, first responders, troops, families, everyone who has sacrificed so much. >> i would strongly dispute the notion that we are protecting al qaeda, that we are protecting it in any fashion. >> how can you dispute this one all indications if you follow this path and trail in reality that al qaeda and
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other groups are in control today and our government has threatened any of these other countries who are -- have talked about attacking them, how can you see it in any other fashion? >> we can talk about some of the dynamics in a closed session. >> you dispute those numbers that they have been confirmed publicly? >> they may refer to a global isis number but we -- >> he was very specific to say 20-30,000 people plus al qaeda and other groups in control. >> there is no dispute that it has become a hornets nest of multiple terrorists organizations. regrettably, this is the product of the russian and regime approach to consolidate and control on the ground in syria. they have used de-escalation zones and local negotiated deals to purge areas in syria and have used it as a dumping ground and they have allowed the free transit of the worst
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terrorists to go here. >> and the fact is and i have asked this questions of many of our other civilian and military leaders over the last few years, both in the previous administration, this administration, the fact is the united states government and military has not made an effort to go after al qaeda early on in syria as they have with isis. before my time is expired i want to ask about iran and follow-up to the questions asked earlier with regard to the fact that in iraq and syria, iran has more influence in those two countries today then ever before in recent history and since it is apparently not in our national security interest to have the influence in the region expanded, would you agree that our policies in these countries have resulted in the exact opposite of what would be in our national security interest, iran having a stronger presence in syria prior to 2011? >> i am not sure i follow that
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our specific activities are the reason iran has more -- >> prior to our invasion in iraq? iran had less influence than after? in syria, prior to 2011, when this war broke out to overthrow the government, and our support for that along with saudi arabia and cutter and other countries, iran had far less of a presence and far less influence in syria than they do today? >> regrettably, the presence and influence in syria and lebanon and across the region predates the war. >> would you not agree they have far more of a presence and influence today than before? >> the influence in syria has far more to do with the syrian -- >> i am just asking a simple question on if you have more presence and influence day than before 2011? >> sure, it has little to do
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with our policies so much as it does the with the silverware and relation ship -- relationship with asad. >> time is expired. mr. gallagher? >> given that russia -- i like to pull the string on the russia angle, given that it has least ports and airbases for some cases five decades and i apologize if this was covered, this is just about far more than just shoring up support for the asad regime, that russia has a broader regional plan, what is your assessment of the long-term goals and objectives in syria and in the eastern mediterranean? >> there is a debate in the analytical community about if they have long-term strategies or relies on short-term tactical improvisation. i would agree that i think they are looking simply beyond shoring up asad and utilizing
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their newfound influence and presence in syria for diplomatic leverage and influence to undermine the united states to project power into the eastern mediterranean, we can talk about some of this enclosed session. i am questionable that russia's intervention in syria has changed the trajectory of the conflict and very much complicated the situation. regrettably at every turn they have chosen not to be partners in trying to end the conflict through peaceful negotiations and instead have complicated the complication on the ground with thwarted support for the regime and willingness to partner with a run on the ground. >> i hope we can dig into the nature of the partnership, as it pertains to any operational coordination between russia and terrorist proxies to syria. but i don't know, is it
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possible in open session, the russians have deployed several to syria in 2006 but in the last few weeks we have heard 300 being transferred to the asad regime, can you give us an assessment of what that means if anything for our ability to conduct operations and does that place limits on our allies and israelis and particulars and conduct operations in and around syria? >> i think i would like to take most of the details of the questions about operations and partners into closed session. what i would say is the introduction of more of these systems and only serving to create unstable conditions and the likelihood of miscalculation that such as which we tragically saw earlier in the week. with the russian playing being
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shot down by the syrians. i think my greatest concern is the more things we are putting into this small area particularly as we close in the north part of syria, the more dangerous the situation becomes because the instability. >> we could also limit options if russian personal were in an area and we were contemplating taking action we may be more enter looked to do so with technology and associated forces to operate its. quickly, but we were talking about, the national security advisor has said any potential third strike would be qualitatively different in nature. meaning this would be -- some sort of escalation of force. if a strike is of a greater magnitude, qualitatively different, does the administration intend to use and rely loosely on the 2001
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grab bag of authorities that you referenced earlier? or would it be interested in seeking a new authorization? >> i think secretary matus would not want us to opine on hypothetical or operational matters. >> it would be fun to do so. >> not fun for me. i would say the administration has produced and provides a public office of legal counsel assessment and legal authorities in which they operated in the strike. i would refer you to what it speaks to at length as authorities respond to the previous use of chemical weapons. >> my concern with the reasoning is you place a lot of weight on the inherent constitutional authority of the commander-in-chief to conduct foreign relations. as everyone knows the constitution is at anonymous were declaration and authority
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in the congress of the united states. many of us suggest we have stretched the logic beyond the bounds of recognition and i think there is a bipartisan interest in doing something about it and i recognize fully this is not necessarily the fault of the executive branch, it tends to aggregate power wherever they can. it's a fault of congress unwilling to do its duty. >> let's go back to russia, i heard some things that astound me. russia has always been clear, make sure you keep off the sidelines and destabilize alliances. what else to they want and have, they are propping up a puppet, they have the puppet, they will continue to have free access to resources as they have before but more
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importantly, they are tying us down to what seems to me to be a war or operation that has no end, eventually start sucking away at our resources we need to take care of the interest that we care about. which from what i understand is freedom of the seas, human rights violations and defense of israel. how are we not falling into the russian traps by basically continuing to basically engage in this quagmire without an end and end up rejecting these other interests that are important to the united states? >> it is regrettable that russia's behavior in syria has complicated this conflict and made a political resolution more complicated. i don't think it has tied us down. if you compare the success the united states and its partners
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have had in defeating isis and liberating territories and areas where we have operated in syria with russia and the regime zephyr against isis and al qaeda, i think we stuck up remarkably well. it is what we are focused on. >> we have further separated from turkey since the start of this war. they still have more than they had before and they have asad but same time we are clearly not getting out of there anytime soon and at the same time taking interests to other areas. we are losing right now in terms of protecting our overall interests. that aside, let me leave that there. right now, the department is not authorized -- is that correct? >> we are not interviewing -- interfering in the syrian civil war. >> what funds are not being
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used when it comes to the syrian government? >> can you restate the question? >> they are not authorized to fight the syrian government, what is being done to ensure that funds are not being used to engage in hostilities with syrian government forces? >> congress has been specific in how we allocate funds, which we report on a regular basis. both the procedures we used about as well as the activities of partners, that is one example of how carefully we adhere to the restrictions of the congress place on authorities in syria. >> to engage in a hypothetical if you can, much like we served in iraq and played a lot of wacko mall -- a lot of
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cities on this map, the will -- the last thing i want to say is other young men and women playing through the syrian -- what is the definition of true defeat against isis if our operational orders are to be there until isis is defeated, what does that mean in syria? what i interpret is we may defeat isis and destroy the functionalities but it seems to be another element were because the idea of isis may exist, that is the pretext of why we should stay in syria when it is to buffer against iran which is if that is the case we should come back to congress and ask about authorization. >> the last thing we want is to continue to play that game. we want to avoid the mistakes
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we have made in the past and ensure that what we leave behind in syria and iraq means the u.s. servicemen and women won't have to come back and fight a more dangerous enemy. this is why the political resolution of the conflict, it is why the political and security developments of the iraqi government are so important. and it is why we do what we can as the military to be conducted to the state department activities if that develops security forces and government's capacity or if it is to facilitate a political end to the conflict in syria. we need to see local security forces who are representative of and respectful of the local populations who can keep control and unfortunately we don't see an indication that the asad regime is going to result in that kind of stability. >> this is going to conclude
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the open portion of the afternoon hearing and we walk upstairs to 2216 for the classified discussion. we will adjourn for three minutes and reconvene. thank you, very much.
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on tuesday the senate finance committee considers the nomination of andrew saul to have the social security administration. according to la the commissioner's position should have been filled by november 17 and the acting administrator appointed at the end of the obama administration is currently running the agency. live coverage of the hearing begins at 10:30 am eastern on c-span three, you can also watch online on or listen on the free radio app. sunday night on q&a, yale university historian joanne freeman on her book the field of blood, violence in congress and the road to civil war.
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>> we end up with scores of congressmen in a mass brawl, in and of itself it is dramatic, guys throwing punches, it is a massive encounter but what was really interesting to me was people at the time looked at it and what they saw was a group of northerners and southerners, running at each other in the house of representatives and several said this doesn't look like a normal congressional fight this looks like north against south. this looks like a battle. and that is striking. and indeed it looked like a battle and it's not that long before the civil war. >> sunday night at 8 pm eastern on c-span q&a. facebook former top security officer alex demoss talks about security issues related to the election. he left over differences about
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the handling of russian interference in the 2016 election. he spoke at a recent tech crunch disrupt. >> everything is branded, everything. welcome to our brand. welcome to the stage. for anyone who may not know, alex was at yahoo as the chief information security officer, you left for facebook and you spent three years at facebook and now you are moving on to bigger and different things. i don't know if they are better, i guess you don't know? >> i have been so bored, i wanted to get into academia. >> obviously we may have a hard time figuring out what to talk about, it's been quiet at facebook.


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