tv House Hearing on the United States Syria Strategy CSPAN October 22, 2018 10:32am-11:46am EDT
and on the free c-span radio app. wednesday morning, we're live in concord, new hampshire, for the 48th stop on the c-span bus 50 capitals tour. chris pappas will be our guest on the bus starting at 9:30 a.m. eastern. defense department officials were on capitol hill to explain the administration's syria strategy. this hearing was held by the house armed services subcommittee on oversight and investigations. it's just over an hour.
the oversight investigation subcommittee convenes this afternoon to take testimony on the u.s. strategy on syria. just weeks ago our nation commemorated a somber 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 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 a global terrorist network. isis has some initial success, the group quickly seized territory including eastern syria. and while the united states continued to speak out against the atrocities of the syrian government, isis posed a possibility of a ruthless, anti-american terrorist group controlling a large and important region. therefore, the united states assisted some of those fighting isis. there have been some significant victories since march of 2010. significant territory has been liberated from isis. nonetheless, it continues to pose a threat. the department of defense has declared that isis is well positioned to rebuild. isis could recapture lost territory. the goal of the united states is to prevent this possibility, but
it is essential that our nation carefully calibrate 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 regime greatly complicates our efforts. in recent weeks the administration suggests that military forces will remain in syria. furthermore, while assad, russia and turkey contemplate military activity in and around idlib around the last week, press reports have discussed how the u.s. might respond 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 and the status of u.s. counterterrorism efforts. we will also consider the humanitarian crisis in the region and the re-establishment of governance in areas liberated from isis.
in a moment i'll turn to ranking member molten for comments and introduce today's witnesses, but i want to remind members that this hearing is unclassified and when we conclude, we will recess briefly and move upstairs to room 2216. our witnesses will join us there and we will reconvene for an opportunity to discuss classified information and receive additional details from the witnesses. i will ask members to move promptly to the second location at the appropriate time. with this administrative note out of the way, i now recognize franking remember molten for his introductory comments. >> thank you, madam chairwoman and thank you for rescheduling the hearing due to the hurricanes, and thank you to our witnesses for being here with us this afternoon. today we're seeking clarity on the trump administration's strategies for achieving u.s. political and military objectives in syria. while long overdue, today's
discussion is timely, given heightened intervention in the region by the syrian regime's top allies, russia and iran. just this monday, the russian defense ministry announced plans to equip syrian air defense forces with the s300 anti-missile system. a move characterized by john bolton as a, quote, significant escalation, end quote, in the seven-year civil war. in august, iranian defense minister amir hatami affirmed iran's commitment to the assad regi regime, affirming iran would have a, quote, presence, participation and assistance, end quote, in the reconstruction of syria. increasing military escalation by russia in the idlib province which has been temporarily averted by a russia-turkey agreement threatens to exacerbate an already devastating humanitarian crisis. with over 400,000 syrians dead 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. 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, end quote, and that we should, quote, let other people take care of it now. naively 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, 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 u.s. forces in syria.
earlier this month u.s. ambassador to the united nations nikki haley warned russia and iran of dire consequences if they continued military strikes in idlib, but what exactly does this mean? this week john bolton envisioned a permanent presence in syria to counter iran while secretary mattis insisted our forces were only there to counter isis. when asked about the inconsistency, secretary mattis told press they are on the same sheet of music, but 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. u.s. special representative for syria james jeffrey recently called for a, quote, major diplomatic offensive. however, specific details have been sparse. defeating terrorist groups with no long-term plans for political
stabilization will only serve to perpetuate the cycle of violence and of repeatedly sending u.s. troops into conflict zones. it troubles me that much of what we have accomplished in iraq has been undone because we did not have a solid, comprehensive plan to stabilize the region and secure the peace. i will 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. i've met with troops fighting on the ground in syria and have asked them what they're fighting for, only to find that many of them do not have an answer. it is unfair to our troops to continuously ask them to put their lives on the line without a mission or clear objective. although i did not agree with the war in iraq at least i knew what the plan was when i went out on patrol at night as a marine infantry officer. in today's hearing we will attempt to secure answers to an array of open questions such as
what are the capabilities and abilities of our partners in the region including the u.s.-backed forces. i look forward to hearing what progress, if any, the administration has made toward putting toward a comprehensive strategy on syria. thank you, and i yield back. >> thank you. i am pleased to introduce our witnesses, mr. robert story carem, the assistant secretary of defense for u.s. international security affairs and u.s. marine corps brigadier general scott benedict, deputy director of political military affairs for the middle east with the joint staff. mr. cameron, we'll begin with you. >> thank you. ranking member and admiral, distinguished members of the committee, thank you for inviting us to participate in the hearing today. because the hearing is open i will not be able to discuss the details of the military operations in syria and if doing so can undermine the operations and put our forces at risk. we will be very happy to discuss some of these issues in closed
session, but must err on the side of caution to avoid discussing classified information about activities in this setting. the u.s. government objectives in syria remain unchanged. in syria, the united states seeks to secure the enduring defeat of isis and al qaeda and its affiliates, deter the use of chemical weapons around counter iran's malign destabilizing influence. the united states also seeks a peaceful resolution of the multi-faceted conflict in syria in a manner that protects u.s. interests and preserves a favorable regional balance of power, protects our allies and partners and alleviates human suffering. the defense department's role in syria is limited. we are pursuing the enduring defeat of isis with a relatively small u.s. military footprint and to buy with and through strategy that relies on local partners. while we are not intervening in the syrian civil war because our combat operations target isis, this underlying conflict
inevitably affects our efforts and the assad regime with russian and iranian backing has retaken significant swaths of territory from the opposition, which it suggests for violent oppression. this imperils international efforts for facilitate an enduring peaceful resolution to the underlying conflict. although our military efforts and those of our local vetted partners have hastened the territorial defeat of isis and have advanced u.s. national security interests, we believe that broader u.s. objectives are most effectively pursued through a negotiated political resolution of the syrian conflict and humanitarian c crisis, consistent with u.n. security council resolution 2354. as we have previously emphasized, we work with parallel with the united nation and the partners to enforce a lasting settlement that includes full representation of all
syrians, including the people in northeast syria now recovering from isis occupation. the u.s. government remains committed to the critical diplomatic efforts under way to end the war on terms to protect the rights of syrian people and enable a safe, voluntary and dignified return of displaced persons and refugees to their homes. the recent appointments to ambassador jim jeffrey as the state department's special representative for syria and joel rayburn as secretary of state highlight the renewed focus on diplomatic engagement. the state department is eager to support their efforts. in close coordination with and under the authorities granted by the congress. the defense deptd has made significant progress since 2014 when isis swept across iraq and syria and terrorized hundreds of thousands of civilians. my task briefed the committee staff on our activities on a regular basis and we appreciate these opportunities to solicit input and feedback from the committee as we work through these difficult and complex challenges.
as you know, coalition-backed efforts have contributed to the liberation of more than 99% of the territory and more than 7.5 million people from isis control in iraq and syria. despite this progress, we assess that even after the defeat of the physical caliphate, isis remains stronger now than its predecessors al qaeda in iraq was when the united states withdrew from iraq in 2011. tough fighting remains in the middle euphrates river valley and our hard-won gains in iraq and syria remain vulnerable. the enemy is adaptive. even though offensive operations with isis-held territory in syria are under way, isis has begun the transition into an underground insurgency, and sustained conditions-based u.s. presence will enable us to pressure the resurgency while simultaneously facilitating diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict. we seek to avoid telling the
enemy when we will withdraw or leaving before the job is done. we do not want to repeat the mistakes that created the conditions for isis' emergence in the first place. we are not alone. we are working by, with and through a range of partners to defeat isis. in syria, we are vetting, training and equipping local syrian forces such as the multi-ethnic syrian democratic forces who are leading calm pat operations against holdouts. we have supported vetted security forces drawn from local populations to hold and secure isis-liberated territory. the 79-member global coalition to defeat isis remains committed to the challenges in both syria and iraq and is adaptive to isis' evolve ak timbitions and tactics. our allies and partners are increasingly sharing the burden for ongoing defeat isis operations and stabilization and humanitarian assistance. since april, the united states government has secured
approximately $785 million in contributions for undp's funding facility for stabilization efforts in areas liberated from isis in northeast syria, including 70 million euros from france, 18.6 million dollars from the united kingdom and 10 million euros from germany plus 235 million euros in humanitarian support from germany. we applaud these contributions and encourage our partners to seek additional ways to step up their support for stabilization and diplomatic efforts to ensure a safe and stable syria. in eastern syria, the united states agency for international development, usaid and the state department are leading the recovery in stabilization efforts consolidate military gains and stabilize liberated areas. with support with dod, they're addressing humanitarian needs and removing isis-placed mines and ieds, helping local recovery
efforts and helping to establish the security, economic and security conditions that will allow for the safe and voluntary return of displaced syrians to their homes. the ability to co-deploy state department and usaid, and it plan and monitor these activities alongside local partners remain a key aspect of our success. in northern syria, the united states is working with our 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 u.s. is working with kur tee to promote local governance and security elements acceptable to all parties, including the people of mannedage. we respect turkey's national security concerns and are aligned in seeking an end to the syrian conflict in accordance with security council resolution 2354 that respects the rights of all syria's citizens and addresses the humanitarian crisis caused by this conflict.
we welcome recent reports of the turkish russian agreement for the demilitarized zone in idlib and nevertheless, remain gravely concerned over the potential for a major military offensive by the syrian regime, backed by russia and iran, that could increase the prospect for the use of chemical weapons and put civilians at grave risk. turkey shares these concerns. it remains to be seen whether turkey's efforts with supporting a major offensive will hold and we note that previous cease-fire will be used as an opportunity for russia, iran and the syrian regime to rest, refit and resume an offensive whenever it suits them. putin's continued support for the regime and willingness to partner with iran and syria reveals the stark divergences between turkish and russian objectives in syria. a regime offensive in idlib would represent a dangerous escalation of the conflict and would threaten not facilitate diplomatic efforts to win the
conflict. our position on the syrian regime of chemical weapons remains unchanged. as we have demonstrated we will respond swiftly to the further use of chemical weapons to defend the international prohibition against the use of such weapons. and to deter further use. prohi against such weapons and deter further use. we urge the regime and russian sponsor to refrain from using chemical weapons or risk the international consequences of doing so. we encourage other international partners to join our diplomatic and political efforts to deter bashar al assad from using these weapons. we want to identify perpetrators of chemical weapons in syria. this counters russia's repeated use to dismantle the impartial u.n. and organization for the
prohibition which found the assad regime used them four times that killed and injured hundreds of civilians. we remain concerned by iran's significant military and paramilitary proxy involvement in syria. iran's introduction of sophisticated equipment into syria directly threatens important partners like israel and jordan and risks dangerously escalating the tensions in the region. iran is also no friend of the syrian people and if its behavior in iraq is any indication, it's militia proxies and aggressive agenda will inflame tensions and sow seeds of further radicalism. despite these challenges, the united states is taking steps to strengthen our partners and deter iran.
we're working closely with the department of state through the iran materiel display where representatives from over 66 nations have viewed iran's proliferation of advanced chemical weapons. we continue to shore up the our israeli partners. we continue to take steps to reinforce vulnerable and fragile partners. we retain a regional posture and military stance. we're not seeking war with iran. that said, we will take steps to defend ourselves and work with regional partners and global allies to work with destabilizing iran's activities. we want to prevented miscalculations and accidents involving our respective forces which operate in close proximity
on the ground and in the air. although this tactical behavior has been a success, they've been at odds with our core objectives. they continue to hamper efforts to achieve a lasting political settlement of conflict. russia has recently launched a concerted dislocation effort to discredit the united states and international partners, flooding the media with state stories, sow doubt, and to hide russia's role in the assad campaign of murder. the united states is working with matter nevers across the world to expose russia's propaganda and disinformation campaigns. finally let me thank congress for the funding and authority to the department of defense in this endeavor. although the scope is narrow, we have together dealt with the
scourge of isis and will do right. thank you. >> thank you very much, mr. karem. now len's turn to general benedict. >> generalwoman hartzler and distinguished gentlemen, thank you. i'm general benedict from the skroinlt staff middle east directive and i appreciate the opportunity to take your questions regarding the aspects of our operations of syria. >> thank you very much. i would like to start before we get into specific questions we have a map. i appreciate that. would you go over with us things you would like to point out about this map? are you aware of this map? >> he's seen the map. >> i've seen the map. i think i can tell you just from
having looked at that map quite often, i think a couple of key points on there would be down in the lower portion. there's an area that's a half circle on the border between jordan and syria, yes, ma'am, in blue. that's an airy where we have a u.s. presence and partner force and an area shaded in orange in the eeftd, that's where we partners with the sdf forces. in the lower right, that's an area down in the border there. that's the final portion where the physical caliphate has shrunk, that tiny orange sliver. that's all that's left is the top portion. if you go to the top portion, the brown area, that's the
vicinity of manbig and the green is idlib. >> appreciate that. mr. karem, master jim jeffrey said ultimately eliminating iran's military presence in syria is primary u.s. objective chlg can you confirm it's a primary u.s. objective to reduce and eliminate iran's military presence and expound on what the troops are doing to carry out this mission? >> i think officials have spoken at length how concerns we are about the threat iran poses to the region and how destabilizing its activities inside syria have been. it is clearly a height priority
-- high priority of the united states throughout the region including syria. i would disingaing aing a -- die it. it is, of course, the case that our presence in syria, military presence, has residual benefits. benefits for our diplomats who are trying to negotiate and residual benefits because it can help deter activities from other adversaries, but the purpose of our other military operations is very squarely focused on the isis fight. i think i would also note just analytically, iran's presence and other activities make it
increasingly unlikely we'll see an enduring political solution to the crisis. we believe such a political solution is going to be necessary to achieve the conditions that will allow us to secure an enduring defeat of isis to prevent the resurgence of isis or another similar terrorist organization. >> that's concerning, that comment right there. in your testimony you said you're working closer with the department of state. can you explain a little bit more what that entails? >> sure. we have set up a display of materiel captured from a number of battlefields that our partners have provided us to help explain and expose the type of activities iran is engaged in.
we very much welcome members of congress coming out to see this display. we've brought a number of representatives from countries around the world. we think this helps demonstrate diplomatic support to contest. violations of u.n. security council resolutions that these weapons and materiel, i think, really bring home. >> so based on your statement a minute ago, you're saying basically -- and maybe general benedict can answer this -- that the department of defense doesn't have any role really other than ancillary to countering iran and syria? you're focussed solely on isis or you're dealing with a dod rule regarding iran? >> in syria, chairwoman, our role is to defeat isis, that's it. as mr. karem mentioned, there's
a secondary benefit to our presence on the ground there. certainly being on the ground and creating a waglimit. >> what are the current counterobjectives in syria? >> our principle primary counterobjectives is enduring the defeat of al qaeda, i circumstance at other terrorist groups. i can talk about some of the close activities but this involved the unilateral activities as well as the local supporters who are doing much of the fighting on the ground to retake territory from much of these organizations and to kill and capture isis fighters. >> how will you measure the destruction of isis despite how much territory they control because obviously now it doesn't
control very much. how are you measuring their impact? >> there are a range of matrix we would look at. we would look at the territory they control, the assets that they have, the number of fighters and supporters, their freedom of movement, the extent of what their ideology and residents communicate across the region and other more ambiguous factors, but in terms of the sheer numbers, as i said, we do measure their strength always still being very significant. >> the last question i have for key member bolton, do they have a plan regarding the
re-emergence? >> it's designed to destroy the caliphate and to set the conditions for a diplomatic solution, an economic solution, social solutions, that will allow for the devices and preeventual its resurgence. the military can only play one part in that equation, which is why we're so encouraged by the renewed diplomatic defensive from him, but ultimately this will require the russians, the iranians, and the syrian regime being willing to sit down at the table with members of the syrian opposition to bring about an end of the conflict in a manner that creates more stable, more respectful conditions for syria's people.
>> very good. ranking member moulton. >> thank you. our concerns are with what's going on in syria. many of your questions are written down here on my list of questions. we did not share those prior to the hearing, but we have a lot of common concerns. i was wondering, do the 2001 and 20 2002 aumf apply? >> it applies to al qaeda and associated groups. the 2002 has been focused on ir iran. we're not conducting operations against iran. have not been asked to conduct operations against iran. wherever we are in the world, our military has the right to
self-defense if we're attacked. but under none of those aumfs are we envisioning anything under iran. >> that seems to be what general mattis was saying that, quote, our troops in syria are there for one purpose and that's defeating isis. it has nothing to do with iran. he's made that very clear. now you said in answer to the previous question we have to desegregate our overall strategy which includes countering iran's influence in the region from our military presence on the ground. is that correct? >> i think you're making the point we need to desegregate questions and there are many tools we need to test iran across the region. there are aspects of our military operations or presence that can be useful in countering
iran, but we're not conducting military operations against iran, is the point i was trying to make. our presence can affect iran's freedom of maneuver and can put more pressure on them, but our purpose in being there and our military operations are not being conducted, per se, against iran. >> so if we're going to encounter iran and we have an ought racing to do, so we might have operations against iran or we might simply have troops in the region, but iekter requires authorization. i mean if we're going to conduct operations against north korea, we're going to get a correct ought racing to do so before we send troops into north korea, correct? >> i would defer to the lawyers for the -- >> you're the best we've got for lawyers. the problem is national security adviser john bolton said the
united states intends to keep an indefinite military presence in syria until iran withdraws its forces. that to me sounds like we're sending our military to syria to counter iran, especially because their withdrawal is apparently dependent on the actions of iran, not isis or isis. that's what the national security adviser has stated. >> congressman, the guidance we've been given is we have a decisions-based approach in syria and our presence is focused on the enduring defeat of isis. >> that's not what the national security adviser said. he said the mill tier presence will last until iran withdraws its forces. that sounds to me like it's against iran, which you just
stated is not allowed. >> congressman, i think if we were conducting operations against iran, that would be the case, but we are not. i think what the national security adviser and others recognize is that as long as iran continues to pose a threat, as lork as they continue to engage in destabilizing activities, as long as it continues to foment, it's going to happen. >> just to be clear, what you're stating is sending u.s. troops to syria as part of a strategy to deter iran with the guidance that they will not withdraw until iran withdraws its forcesst not a deterrent against iran. if i ask those troops and say your tour is to stay here until
iran leaves and they say, yes, that's our mission, we're not operating against iran. of course, that would be illegal. >> congressman, our forces were sent to syria to defeat isis. >> with is there withdrawal according to the national security adviser, dependent upon iran withdrawing its forces? >> i think he's making an analytical judgment -- >> it's not an analytical judgment. you're telling these troops when they can go home. you're telling the parent whs when their sons and daughters can go home. if the national security adviser said your daughter can come home when iran leaves, it seems to me, that's pretty dependent on iran. >> skongman, the guidance we have been given is we're there to bring about the defeat of
isis. we're proud of the progress we've made. the diplomatic pressure is going to be predominant. >> the national security adviser has given you different guidance. if that's what the troops are hearing f that's what the parents of these american troops are hearing, and you already said that's illegal under the authorization given from congress, then i think the administration has got a big problem. i yield back. >> thank you both for being here. at one point in time there was a particularly significant humanitarian wreck. are they still there and can you give us any kind of update? you said we have some there. can you give us an idea what
that looks like? >> sir, i believe you're referring to the rokbon camp. there's about 50,000 displaced persons in the rokbon camp. >> are the syrians allowing them to come in in. >> they are no. >> that i are no. >> they are not. >> jordanians are still crane lifting the humanitarian supplies? >> they're providing limited -- >> has the regime explained why they're making their own people sucher like that? >> sir, we don't taunt directly to the regime. but, no, there has not been an explanation why they've not allow it to reopen. >> that's a pretty rugged part of the world. would it be fair to say those
refugees are under some stress and misery? >> i would certainly agree with you that it's a rough part of the -- rough airy to live in, so i imagine that the conditions there would not be -- >> -- ideal? >>. >> very good. >> does the regime have the capacity to send leaf there if they were of such mind? >> we definitely believe they have the capacity. >> there's no visible barriers, blocking forces, no reason why he couldn't to that other than he doesn't care about hispeople? >> the u.s. has not provided in inhibition. you're not aware of any outside forces that would physically prevent humanitarian aid getting there. that's rhetorical. so in the southwest corner,
our allies with israel and jordan, can you tell if iranians have abided by that? >> congressman, i think we'd be happy to talk in closed session about what we see in south syria. they're both clearly very concernen the threat that would be be imposed by an iranian residual presence in saudi arabia. they have soutds to secure the departure of iranian forces through negotiations with the russians. we do not have a presence in that part of syria. >> your allies do. >> our allies -- >> they live there? >> they're not present. >> but they run across the territory. >> i go back. >> do you get a second bite of the apple aparparentapparently?
>> i goat a g -- get a second bietd apparently. what kind of enstand stage is t? >> they have talked about it consistent with a plan or an outline by u.n. security resolution 22 54 and the process that is inclusive of all syrians and allows for full par tess passion, so i would defer you. >> here's the key question. when i go to the middle east and talk to troops going syria and say, hey, what is your mission, what are you trying to achieve? my experience is we're trying to take this town back from isis,
we're trying to take this individu village. i say, what happens next. that's your immediate tactical mission. what is the objective you're trying to achieve? a lot of people disagree with the war in iraq. but it was clear what we were doing. we were taking it back frommal kai da or other malicious groups. there was a clear political strategy. what is that political objective in syria in the language that us here on the committee and that most importantly the troops on the ground can understand? >> so general ben death and i have spent a good deal of time talking with some of our forces out there, and i do think they have an appreciation of what we're trying to accomplish. they also have a better appreciation than we often do of how difficult this is.
there are these immediate tactical objectives. it blends into strategic. >> governance by whom? >> by locals. what we've been facilitating in conjunction with star forward is using the syrian democratic forces and increasing a percentage of them to ensure the towns that have been lip rated by isis that security and governance has been provided by local locals. all of that is fed into this political process which we don't
control, we support. how do we put pressure on the regimes and russians to allow for a diplomatic process that is inclusive app can resolve the con concept. >> that's the answer the military would give? >> i think they're looking to remediate towns from isis an they would see the connection for a political end state so that the hard won military fight that our partners have been fighting isn't for naught, that iran and the regime doesn't simply plunge across the river and take back and repress these same villages from which isis sprung in the first place. >> essentially what you're saying is we're going to have control of these villages we take back, sort of like creating medieval syria.
we don't know who's going control the government. we don't have aniy what's happening there or what our goals or objectives would be in determining the strategy. >> congressman, i think it's similar to your experience in iraq. we were trying to help them take back their towns. the difference is, however, this is taking place in a different kind of conflict with a civil war that is rageing. so we're not seeking to create a an independent country. with want to use the hard won victories of the syrian democratic forces as leverage toward a diplomatic end state. we can't promise what that will look like, but our presence will
help these communities have a better shot at securing political negotiation. >> general benedict, is there anything you'd like to add to that from a military perspective in terms of what they're trying to achieve? >> yes, thank you. so i was just in raqqah, i guess it was about a month or so ago. really there's no question in my mind that that green beret italian commander understood what his mission was, stabilization in that area. and defeating isis, they understand what the operational intent is. i think the last point that mr. karem made is particularly important. the military mission is pretty clear. there was no, at least in my mind, any question what they were doing and why they were doing it, and they were seeing the results of what they were
doing and the zstabilization, ad that, then, can continue to that part of the leverage. no question. the last thing is their mission. they understand that includes that stabilization to set the conditions so isis doesn't come back. >> general, there's no debate from me they understand the operational mission. my question is what is the strategic mission frmgs what are they trying to achieve? just to use the iraq analogy again, i don't think it's very consistent. in iraq, we had a clear goal. we had a debate and we resolved it. my answer is they know they're creating stability to support some sort of future government.
>> yes, sir. and as mentioned, to get this back into geneva. our activities and the success we've had, not only providing for the defeat of isis, the most successful operations that are being conducted in syria against violent extremists but also the success we're having locally with setting up local governments, supporting the local government. that does play to the negotiations that ambassador jeffries has to drive to a political solution. so i believe they can see through that operational perspective and see the value of the earth that they're doing toward a larger political goal. >> general, i recognize it's very difficult.
i think having some clarity on that rather than some sort of government would be helpful. helpful to us but also helpful to the troops on the ground, but thank you. >> thank you. mr. scott. >> thank you, madam chair. i'm not sure how much influence we have on mr. political process in syria and i'm not sure if we have any political control over it. i do have questions that -- i'll save that for the next one. getting back to the issue of authorization, it seems because isis is in syria, that's how we justify being authorized to operate in syria. is that correct?
>> that's correct. >> how many countries is isis in? >> off the top of my head. i couldn't tell you. they remain in iraq and syria. they have regained control. they're hiding within the population. i think there's a difference in terms of the unique situation we found ourselves in in which i sit timeover. >> soing there's control there, not that isis is there. >> no. i think it's the control they had.
we also no longer had government structures in western iraq or eastern syria. we were welcomed into iraq by the iraqi government which explain explains some of it there. this has been amplified by specific authorities that congress has provided us to provide to our local partners. >> i don't think there was ever a win in syria, just looking at things and for the united states. it was like a kaleidoscope. every team something changed, something else changed. the russians clearly already had
the high ground. just looking at the scenario, obviously the issue of the legality of us being there, especially isis being there, just hypothetically, if we follow that through, if isis is in, hypothetical number, 20 countries, do we have the authorization to go into all of those 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. >> could i ask you a follow-up? when you say we? >> the united states. it's conducted in large consultation with congress.
our efforts to support local governments against i circumstance we're not equipped. funds are provided by the congress and overseen by the congress. >> respectfully i think some of that might be debatable. i am concerned that because an organization by a certain name is in a country makes us disabled because we're there, issue got the authorization to go do whatever i want to in that country, and i'm very concerned about the authorizations and i think it deserves further discussion. i have some very specific
questions, but i'll yield whatever time i have back. >> thank you for yielding back your 14 seconds. representative gabbard. >> thank you. it's been referenced there's 20,000 gee ha differents and others that are holed up in idlib and syria. we've heard in the last several days, quote/unquote, consequences for any military offensive by seary or iran against these terrorists in idlib. james jeffries stated the u.s. will not tolerate, quote, an attack, feared you, and th -- p
and any offense is an escalation, so considering the fact that, mr. karem, you've not noted many times that our troops are under military operation and that's after al qaeda attacked us on 9/11 and that we're supposed to be at war with al qaeda, my question is how is it that rather than going after al qaeda and defeated al qaeda, the united states is acting against the tletzs. how is this not a complete kick in the face to all of the victims o 9/11, the troops, their families, everyone who has lost so much? >> i would strongly object to
protecting isis in idlib. >> how can you say that if you follow this path and trail in reality that troops are in control of idlib today and our government has threatened any of these other countries ho have talked about attacking these terrorist groups in idlib? >> we'll be happy to talk about some of this in closed session. >> do you dispute those numbers that general dumford has said? he was very specific to say 20,000 to 30,000 plus al qaeda and other troops in idlib. >> there's no dispute that idlib has become a hornest's northwest of mull. terrorist organizes rchl gredly this is the product of russia to control the regime on the ground
in syria. they yusz escalation zones in deals to purge areas in syria and have used idlib as a dumping ground and they have allowed free transit of the worst terrorists to go to idlib. >> and i've asked other leaders over the last few years. the fact is the united states governance and military has not made an effort to go after al qaeda early on as they have with i sisz. before my time is expired i want to ask about iran in follow-up to some of the questions asked earlier with regard to the fact that iraq -- in iraq and syriaing iran has more influence in those two countries today than ever before in recent history, and since it's not in our interest, would you agree
the policies in our countries have resulted in the exact opposite of it, iran having a stronger presence than they did prior to 2011? >> i'm not sure i follow -- >> prior to our invasion to iraq, we had less influence there 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 qatar and other countries, iran had far less of a presence and far less of an influence in syria than they do today. >> regrettably iran's presence and influence in syria, lebanon, and across the region predates the war. >> would you not agree that they have far more of a presence than
today than they did before? >> i think their presence has far more to do -- >> i'm asking a simt pl question of whether or not they have an influence today than before 2011? >> sure, but it has little to do with our policies and the syrian civil war and the relationship with assad. >> time's expired. thank you. mr. gallagher. >> thank you. i'd like to pull the string on the russian angle a little bit. given that they have leased ports and air bases for five decades, to me it's more than just showing up for the assad regime. what is your assessment of russia's long-term goals and objectives in syria and eastern mediterranean? >> i think's a debate wlb russia
has long-term strategies or relies on short-term tactical improvisation. i would agree that they're looking simply beyond shoring up bashar al assad and are utilized their newfound presence in syria for diplomatic leverage and influence to undermine the united states to project power into the eastern mediterranean. we can talk more about this in closed session, but i think unquestionable that russia's intervention in syria has changed the trajectory of that conflict and very much complicated the situation. regrettably that have chosen not to par it is pay and have complicated the situation on the ground and willingness to partner with iran on the ground. >> and i hope in closed session
you'll dig into deeper the nature of that partnership particularly as to the ordination of russia and the deployment to syria. general benedict, i don't know. obviously russia has deployed 300 and 400 since 2006. but in the last few weeks we've heard as 300s are being transferred to the assad regime, can you giving us an assess millionaire what that means? does that place limits on them and their operations in and around syria and our space? >> i think i'd like to take most of the details about the question of our operations or partners into the closed session, but i think what i would say is the introduction of more of these systems ohm serves
to create more unstable conditions and in the likelihood of miscalculation such as what we tragically saw earlier in the week with the russian plane being shot down by the syrians, so i think my greatest concern is the more things that we're putting into this small area, particularly as we're starting to close in the north part of syria, the more dangerous the entire situation becomes because of the instability. >> if, for example, russian personnel were in the aura and we were to contemplate taking action, we might be more loathe to do so. quickly what my colleague was talking about, he said, to use the term, qualitate tifbly different in nature, meaning
there would be some sort of escalation of force. if a strike would be of a greater magnitude, qualitatively different, does the administration still intend to use, to rely mostly upon the 2001 aumf and this sort of grab bag of authorities that you references early, or would it be interesting in seeking a new authorization of military force in syria? >> i think secretary mattis would not want us to opine on operational matters. >> but it would be fun to do so right now. >> not fun for me. i would ask you to defer to the previous response as to the use of chemical weapons.
>> my concern is you're placing a lot ofweight on the commander in chief to conduct foreign relations, but as everyone knows, the constitution invests enormous war-making abilities and i think there are many of us here that would suggest we have stretched the logic to -- beyond the bounds of recognition. and i recognize this is not necessarily the fault of the executive branch. they always temd toing a gri gate power wherever they kchlt it's the unwillingness of congress. i've run out of my time. i apologize. >> thank you. mr. gallego. >> i heard some things that have astounded me. it's always one more report, one more report, make sure you keep turkey off the sidelines and destaeblize their lines to us,
which, by the way, seems that's what they got. they're propping up a puppet. they now will have free access to military. but more importantly, they're tying us down to what seems to me to be a war or operation that has no end, that is sucking away the research that we need to take care of the interests that we really care about, from which i understand historically is contributing. how are we not actually basically falling into the russian traps by basically continuing to, you know, basically engage in this quagmire without an end and actuallynd up rejecteding some of these other interests that are extremely important to the united states? >> i think it's regrettable that
russia's behavior has affected the cop flick and made it more complicated, but i don't think it's necessarily tied us down. in fact, i think if you compare the success that the success its partners have had in defeating isis in territories where we have operated in syria with russia and the regime's earths against isis and al qaeda, i think we stack up remarkably well. in fact, it ooh is what we're focused on. >> they still have the war and assad, but at the same time, we're clearly not getting out of there any time soon. at the same time, we're taking our interest off other areas. we're losing in terms of our overall interest outside of syria. that aside, let me leave that there.
i'd also like to ask you another question. >> we're not intervening. >> the department is being authorized to fight the department. >> can ryou restate the questio? >> sure. the didn't is being authorized to fight the department. >> they've looket at the vetting procedures we've used, which we report on a leg basis, both the procedures we use to vet as well as the activities of our partners. that's one example how carefully we adhere to the system and congress on syria. >> and to engage in a
hypothetical if you can, you know, much like car congressman moulton, the last thing i want is to see other young men and women play whackamole indefin e indefinitely through syrian plains. what is the true definition of defeat of isis if our operational -- if our orders are to be there until isis is defeated, what does that mean? we may actually defeat isis and destroy the functionality of isis, but there seems to be this other element that because the idea of isis may exist, that is the pretext of why we should stay in syria when in fact it's to buffer against iran. if that's the case, you should
come back to congress and ask for that authorization. >> i think the last thing we want is to continue slim playing whackamole. we want to avoid what we've done in the past. we want to make sure our men and women won't have to go back and fight an mean dangerous fight. it's why the political developments of the iraqi government are so important and it's why we do what we can as the u.s. military to be connected to the state department activities wlrks that ooh is to help the iraqis develop their security forces and governance capacity or whether it's to facilitate a political end to this conflict in syria. we need to see local security forces who are representative of
the local populations. unfortunately we don't see any indication that the assad regime is going to result in that kind of stability. >> thatvotes are going to be at 11:45. that's going it for this. we walk upstairs for a classified discussion. we'll adjourn for three minutes and promptly reconvene. thank you very much. lassified d.
with the midterm elections just days away, watch the competition for the control of congress on c-span. see for yourself the candidates and the debates from key house and senate races. make c-span your primary source for campaign 2018. with 15 days to go until election day, we continue with two rallies. former president barack obama will be live in las vegas
participating the nevada democratic party get out the vote rally. live coverage begins at 4:00 p.m.'v eastern. then at 7:30, president trump will speak at rally in houston to support ted cruz in his re-election bid. watch both rallies live on c-span, your primary source for campaign 2018. this week on "the communicators" joseph turow on web privacy issues. >> they're not designed to give you privacy. they're designed to give you an idea or at least lawyers the idea the kinds of information companies can use about you, often share about you. so if you go to a retailer, say kroger or target or walmart, they will tell you that they use just about everything you do in
relationship to them. they take your information, they use your information, they share parts of your information and buy from you to come plea meant the information they already have. >> watch "the communicators" tonight at 8:15 p.m. on c-span 2. now, the secretary of state mike pompeo on the jewish institute for national security of america. he resooerchd award. this is half an hour. >> thank you very much. thank you for the warm welcome. it's great to be back to honor my friend, our secretary of state, mike pompeo.