tv House Hearing on the United States Syria Strategy CSPAN October 4, 2018 2:59pm-4:16pm EDT
cornerstone and area free masons first laid the cornerstone of the capitol building during the ceremony that included corn, oil and wine. watch american history tv this weekend on c-span3. >> up next, defense department officials testify on u.s. strategy in syria a. the house foreign services committee held this last week.
the 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 and 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 terrorism. five years ago, islamic state in iraq and syria arose from the remnants from al qaeda in iraq. isis killed and pillaged.
the goal of isis was to develop syria as a base of operations for the 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, they posed a possiblist ruthless anti-american terrorist group controlling a large and important region. therefore the united states insisted all of those fighting isis and there have been some important victories since march of 2017, significant territory 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 and it is essential that the nation had the response. the situation is extraordinarily
complex andes rail is profoundly affected. the fact that russia and e ran 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 in the status of u.s. counter terrorism 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. we'll move promptly for the second location to an appropriate time and i will now recognize ranking member molten for his introductory comment. >> thank you, madam chairwoman and thank you for rescheduling the hearings for the hurricane and thank you to the witnesses for being with us this afternoon. >> today we're seeking clarity on the trump administration's strategies for achieving u.s. political and military be on jethives 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 hatam icon firmed iran's commitment to the assad 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 quote, 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 consequence fes if they continued strikes in idlib, but what exactly does this mean? this week john bolton envisioned a permanent presence in syria to counter counter iran while secretary mattis said we were only there to counter isis. secretary mattis 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. 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'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. 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 where are the capabilities 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 mccare an, the assistant of defense for 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 icis in al qaeda and its a fill thias, deter chemical weapons and iran's 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 regional balance of power and 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
iranian backing have taken significant swaths of territory from opposition which it suggests for violent oppression. this imperils international efforts to facilitate and 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 political resolution of the syrian conflict and humanitarian crisis consistent with u.n. security council resolution 2354. as we previously emphasized woe work in parallel with the united nations and the partners to force a lasting settlement that includes full representation for all syrians including the people of 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 representative, and joel rayburn as secretary of state highlight the renewed focus on dip tlomat engagement. the state department is eager to support their efforts. under the authorities granted by the congress, the defense department has made significant progress 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 deliberation 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 predecessor in al qaeda was when the united states withdrew from iraq in 2011. tough fighting remains in the middle euphrates river valley and 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 withdrawal or leaving before the job is done, and we do not want to repeat the
mistakes that create the conditions for isis' aversions 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 forces who are leading combat operations over holdouts and we have supported vetted security forces drawn from local populations to secure isis-liberated territory. the coalition remains committed to the challenges in both syria and iraq and is adaptive to isis' evolving ambitions. 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 for stabilization efforts in
areas liberated from isis and northeast syria including 70 million euros from france, 18.6 million from the united kingdom and 10 million euros from germany plus clearance and 235 million euros in humanitarian support from germany. we applaud these contributions and seek 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 to consolidate gains and stabilize liberated areas. with support with dod, they're addressing humanitarian needs and removing isis-placed minds and 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 enhances turkish concerns. local governance and security elements acceptable to all parties including the people of mandaage. we respect turkey's national security concerns and are aligned in seeking an end to the syrian conflict with respect to the 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 the military offensive by the syrian regime backed by russia and iran that can increase the prospect for the use of chemical weapons and put civilians at great 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 the rug objectives in syria. it would represent a dangerous escalation of the conflict and will threaten and 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. we urge the regime and russian sponsors to refrain from using chemical weaponses or risk the international consequences of doing so. our resolve is shared by the united kingdom and france and we encourage other international partners to join our diplomatic and political efforts to deter bashar al assad from using these weapons. we continue to support international efforts to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons use and namely the chemical weapons convention to identify perpetrators of weapons attacks in syria. this decision counters russia's repeated use of the veto use at the security council to dismantle the u.n. and the prohibition of the joint investigative mechanism which found the assad regime responsible for chemical weapons attacks four times including the
april 2017 chemical weapons attack that killed and injured hundreds of civilians. we remain concerned by iran's significant military, paramilitary and proxy involvement in syria. iran's introduction of sophisticated military equipment into syria along with the entrenched iranian and hezbollah presence there directly threatens important partners like israel and jordan andific rs 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, its militia proxies and aggressive agenda will only marginalize the sunni pop lalgz a lagz and sow seeds, and create opportunities to counter u ran's destabilizing activities. we were working closely with the department of state to expose iran's regional destabilizing influence through the iran
material display where representatives with 56 nations of advanced conventional weapons. we continue to shore up the offenses while working to improve their military defense capabilities against a range of iranian steps. we continue to take steps to the fragile regional partners. at the military plan designed to deter and if necessary respond to aggression. we are not seeking war with iran and that said, we will take steps to defend ourselves with regional partners and allies to address the full range of iran's destabilizing activities. the engagement with russia and syria remains focused on the efforts conducted by a military channel. to prevent miscalculations involving our respective forces which operate in close proximity on the ground and in the air. although this tactical con flikz has been a success,
unfortunately, russia's overall behavior has been at odds with our core objective. russia has enabled the weapons and continues to achieve a lasting political settlement and conflict. russia has recently launched an assertive configuration effort to discredit the united states and our international partners, flooding the media with fake stories to sow doubt and confusion about the reality about the situation in syria and to hide russia's role in the assad regime's campaign of murder and brutality. the united states is working with its partners across the world to expose and counter russia's propaganda in this information campaign. finally, let me just thank the congress for your advice, funding and the authorities provided to the department of defense in this endeavor. although the scope of our military activities and our mandate is narrow, we have together dealt with the scourge of isis and will do right by our troops and have its enduring and
lasting defeat. thank you. >> thank you very much. now let's turn to general benedict. >> ranking member, and distinguished members of the committee, thank you, and thank you for your introduction earlier. i am from the joint staff middle east directorate and i look forward to taking your questions regarding aspects of the situation in syria. >> thank you very much. i would like to start, before we get into specific questions that we have a map here in front of us, and i appreciate that. could you kind of go over with us what things you would like to pin the out about this map? are you aware of the map? >> i don't know that either of us have seen the map. >> oh, okay. i've seen the map and i had it on the secure setting and i can tell you just from having looked at that map quite often, i think a couple of key points down
there would be down at the lower portion. there's an area called atamp, a sort of half circle on the border -- yes, ma'am in blue there. th that's an area where we have a u.s. presence and shaded in the northeast in orange and that's the area where we partner with the sdf forces and you will see down in the lower right, that's an area down close to the border with al cane and abu kamal and that's the final portion where the physical caliphate has shrunk, that tiny little orange sliver. you've probably seen maps earlier where the caliphate spread much over iraq into syria and all of the way down toward the baghdad area and that's all that's left is the tiny orange portion and then if you go up to the top of the map, the brown area and that is the area in the vicinity of mandage, and the green area there is idlib. i'm sure we'll have an opportunity to talk about a few of these places today.
>> i appreciate that. while speaking to u.s. policy in syria, ambassador jim jeffrey stated that reducing and ultimately eliminating iran's military presence in syria is a primary 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 ambassador bolton and other senior administration officials have spoken at length about how concerned we are about the threat that iran poses to the region and how destabilizing the activities inside syria has been. >> it is clearly a high priority of the united states to counter iran's maligned activity throughout the region including in syria. i would disaggregate, however,
our overall u.s. policy objectives from our military activities. our military operations in syria are squarely focused because the authorities we have been provided against isis and al qaeda. it is, of course, the case that our presence in syria, our military presence has residual benefits and benefits for our diplomats who are trying to seek negotiated into the conflict and residual benefits because it can help deter activities from other adversaries, but the purpose of our military operations, the object of our military operations is very squarely focused on the isis fight. i think i would also note just analytically iran's presence and maligned activities make it increasingly unlikely that we will 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 to prevent the resurgence of isis or another similar terrorist organization. >> that's concerning, that comment right there. in your testimony you said that we're working closely to the department of state to expose the destabilizing influence with the material display and can you explain more what that entail. >> at bowling air force base, we have materiel captured from a number of battle fields that our partners have provided us to help explain and expose the types of experience that iran is engaged in and would very much welcome members of congress coming out to see this display. we've brought a number of
representatives from countries around the world and we think this helps demonstrate the very activities that we seek international diplomatic support to contest. violations of u.n. security council resolutions that these weapons and materiel really bring on. >> so based on your statement a minute ago, you are 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 and you're totally focused on isis or is there anything that you're doing as a dod rule regarding iran. >> in syria, chairwoman, our role is to defeat isis. and there is the secondary benefit to the ground there and certainly being on the ground and creating stabilized
situation, and they've got malign activities which includes iranian proxies as well as some of the violent extremists. >> so one of the administration's current counter terrorism objectives in syria? >> our principal primary counter terrorism objectives is to secure the enduring defeat of isis, al qaeda and other associated terrorist groups, and i can talk a bit in closed session about some of the specific activity, but this involves both u.s. unilateral activities as well as the support to local partners who are doing much of the fighting on the ground to retake territory from these organization and to kill and capture isis fighters. >> okay. how will you measure the destruction of isis besides how much territory the group controls because obviously now it doesn't control very much and how are you measuring their impact. >> a range of metrics that we
would look at and it's not just a job for the department of defense, but for the intelligence communities and the whole of government and we have looked at the territory they control and the assets that they have, and the number of fighters and supporters and their freedom of movement and the extent to which their ideology and strategic communications resonate both within local populations and across the region and other more ambiguous factors, but in terms of the sheer numbers as i said, and we do measure their strength as still being fairly significant. >> the last question i have here and ranking member molten and does the administration have a plan to prevent the re-emergence of isis. >> the united states military objectives are designed to destroy the physical caliphate
and to set the conditions for a diplomatic solution, an economic solution and the social solution that will allow for the enduring defeat of isis and to prevent its insurgence. the military can only play one part in that equation which is why we are so encouraged by the renewed diplomatic offensive from ambassador jim jeffrey, but ultimately this will require our partners joining us and it will require the russians, iranians and the syrian regime being willing to sit down at the table with members of the hearing opposition to bring about an end to the conflict in a manner that creates more stable and more respectful conditions for serious people. >> good. >> ranking member molten? >> just to emphasize how
bipartisan the hearing is, and what's going on with syria and many of the questions were written down here on my list of questions. we did not share notes prior to the hearing, but we did have common concerns. i was wondering if you could answer, does the 2001 and 2002 uams authorization use of military force allow operations against iran. >> it is quite clear that applies to al qaeda and associated groups and the 2002 method focused on iran and we are not conducting operations against iran, have not been asked to conduct operations against iran. that said, i would note that wherever we are in the world, our military forces have the right to self-defense in the event that we are attacked, but under none of those aumfs are we
envisioning conducting operations against iran. >> that seems consistent with what secretary mattis said when he said, quote, right now our troops inside syria are there for one purpose and that's under the u.n. authorization about defeating isis. that has nothing to do with iran. he's made that very clear. now you said in the answer to the previous question, we have to disaggregate our overall strategy which includes countering e ran countering iran's presence on the ground. >> we have to desegregate legal authority's questions and that there are many tools we use to contest iran 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. so as general benedict and i
have said our presence can constrain iran's freedom of maneuver and it can empower diplomats to put more pressure on iran, but our purpose in being there and our military operations are not being conducted per se, against iran. >> so if we're going to counter iran and we have an authorization to do so, we might at operations against iran and we might simply have troops in the region and either requires an authorization. if we're going to conduct operation against north korea, we're going to get a congressional authorization to do so before we get troops into north korea. correct? >> and i would defer to the lawyers and you're the best we got for lawyers right now and we're asking you the question and the problem is national security adviser john bolton says the united states tends to keep a 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 and not the actions of isis or the defeat of isis and it's dependent on the withdrawal of the defeat of isis and the withdrawal of isis troops or operatives for the area. that's what the national security adviser has stated. >> the guidance that we've been give sen that we have a conditions-based approach in syria and that our presence is focused on the enduring defeat of isis. >> but that's not what the national security adviser said. he said the military presence will last in syria until iran withdraws its forces. that to me sounds like an operation against iran which you just stated is not allowed under the authorization for military force. >> congressman, i think if we were conducting operations
against iran that would be the case, but we are not. what the national security adviser and others have said, that as long iran continues to engage in destablen -- it will be difficult to end this war. until that happens it will be difficult for us to secure the conditions to allow for the enduring defeat of isis. >> to be clear, what you are stating is sending u.s. troops to syria as part of the strategy to deter iran and with the guidance that they will not be withdrawn until iran withdraws its 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 iran leaves, they would say, yes, that's our mission. we are not operating against iran and we are here as part of
a strategy against iran because that would be illegal. >> congressman, our forces were sent to syria to defeat isis. it is true -- >> why is there withdrawal according to the national security adviser dependent on iran withdrawing its forces? >> i think he's making the analytical judgment that -- >> it's not an analytical judgment. you are telling troops when they can go home. you're telling the parents of these troops when they can come home. if your son or daughter was in iraq or was in syria right now and the national security adviser said your daughter can come home when iran leaves, it seems to me that's pretty dependent on iran. >> i understand, the guidance that we've been given is we are there to bring about the enduring defeat of isis. we are proud of the progress that we have made, but we understand that there is a tough fight ahead and that the diplomatic effort is going to
end up being predominant. >> the national security adviser has given you different guidance and if that's what the troops are hearing, if that's what the american parents and families of these troops are hearing and you've already said that that is illegal under the authorization given from congress, and i think the administration has a big problem. i yield back. >> the chairman yields back. i recognize myself for five minutes. thank you both for being here. >> at one point in time there was a particularly significant humanitarian wreck at tanif, i may be misfrom announcing it. are those folks still there and can you give us an update? you say there are still people there and can you give us what the refugee situation looks like? >> sir, i believe you're referring to the ruqban camp.
there's about 50,000 idps, internally displaced persons in the camp. >> are the syrians allowing humanitarian effort coming in. >> they are not. >> are not? >> they are not. it shows the jordanians are still in effect crane lifting across that line the humanitarian supplies that are getting in there? >> the jordanians are providing limited assistance. >> can the regime explain why they're making their own people suffer like that? >> sir, we don't talk directly to the regime about it, but, no, there hasn't been an explanation of why they have not allowed the humanitarian corridor to open. >> it's a pretty rugged part of the world. the temperatures -- it's a dert. would it be fair that those refugees and those syrian, displaced folks are under some stress and misery? >> i certainly would agree with you that's a rough part of
the -- a rough area to live in and so, i imagine that the conditions there would not be -- >> ideal? >> very good. >> so this regime led by assad had the capacity and wherewithal to send humanitarian relief there if they were of such mind? >> we definitely do think they have the capacity -- >> so there's no physical barriers. no blocking forces other than he just doesn't care about his people? >> the u.s. military has not provided any inhibition of them providing that. >> you are not aware of outside forces that would physically prevent humanitarian aid to getting there. it's rhetorical. but in the southwest corner, our allies with israel and jordan have said, can you tell if the
iranians are abiding by that? >> congressman, we'd be happy to talk in closed session about what we see in southwest syria. they are both clearly very concerned about the threat that would be posed by an iranian residual presence in southwest syria. they have sought to secure the depaurt of iranian forces through negotiations with the russians. we do not have a presence in that part of syria. >> our allies do. >> our allies -- >> they are not present on the ground in syria. >> they're -- the regime now controls that territory. >> thank you, gentlemen. i yield back. >>. >> do you get a second bite of the apple? >> get a success bite of the apple because the other members are not here for the subcommittee. >> i recognize sanford for an
additional brief. >> i'll be brief. >> what kind of political end state for syria does the administration envision? how does our military presence support that goal? >> i would refer you to ambassador jeffrey and deputy assistant secretary of state rayburn to articulate sort of the specific diplomatic strategy and in state that they envision. they have talked about it consistently with the plan outlined by u.n. security council resolution 2254 and a process that is inclusive of all of syrians and allows for full participation. so i would defer you. >> here's the key question. >> when i go to the middle east and talk to troops going to syria, and i say, hey, what is your mission? what are you trying to achieve? and my experience is they'll say we're trying to take this town back from isis and we're trying to take this village and i'll say, what happens next? in other words, that's your
immediate, tactical mission, but what is the objective that you're trying to achieve? who will take over? a lot of people are disagreeing with the war in iraq, but we were taking territory back from al qaeda or some other insurgent groups and militias and we were handing it over to the government of iraq and there was a very clear, political objective to our strategy. you might have disagreed with it, but at least we knew what we were trying to achieve. what is that political objective in syria in a language that us here on the committee and that most importantly the troops on the ground can understand. >> no. i think general benedict and i have spent a good deal of time talking to forces that are out there and i think they do have an appreciation of what we are trying to accomplish and they have a better appreciation of how difficult it is, and there is already an immediate tactical objective and retaking the next town from isis. there is the longer tomorrow objective that is tactical, but
blends into the strategic in terms of setting up governance and stabilizing liberated areas -- >> governance by whom? >> governance by whom? >> governance by locals and what our military has been facilitating in conjunction with star forward and international partners has been yuging the democratic forces to ensure that the towns that have been liberated by isis that security and governance provided by locals, that the governance structures that are put in place are responsive to and comprised and representative of local populations. >> so we're trying to create -- >> all of that is in sort of fed into this larger political process which we do not control, but we support and how do we put diplomatic pressure to allow for a diplomatic process that is
inclusive of all of syria's opposition and request resolve the conflict. >> that's the answer that we give? >> think they would see the immediate objective of liberating towns and a vast swath of syria from isis and i think they would see a connection to the need for a political end state so that the hard-won military fight that our partners have been leading isn't for not. 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 that we'll have local control of all these different villages that we take back. sort of like re-creating m medieval europe in syria. we don't know who will control the government and the national
leadership for syria is up for grabs and we don't have any idea what's happening there or even what our goal or objective would be in determining that strategy. >> i think it's 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 raging. and we are not prepared to abandon our partners to the assad regime. so we are not seeking to create a -- an independent country. we want to use the hard-won military victories of the syrian democratic forces as leverage towards a diplomatic end state. we cannot promise what that will look like, but our presence will help these communities have a better shot at securing political negotiations. >> general benedict, 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're trying to achieve? >> yes, thank you. i was just in raqqa, and i think it was about a month ago or so and there was no question in my mind that that green beret battalian commander understood what it was providing stabilization in that area. also, the forces, of course, who are defeating isis have a very clear operational mission that they understand what the intent is. i think the last point that mr. cameron made is particularly important and the military mission is pretty clear. there was no -- at least from my mind from the lieutenant up to the lieutenant colonel any question what they were doing there and why they were doing it and they were seeing the results of what they were doing in the stabilization and that then can contribute as part of that lo
leverage to get to a political settlement and that's their mission and that includes the stable session has set the conditions so isis doesn't come back. >> there's no debate from me that they understand an operational mission. my question is what is the strategic mission and my question is what are they trying to achieve when they succeed with their operational miss and just use the iraq analogy again i think and iraq they clearly have the strategic goal and the strategic political goal. maybe we should have this debate and we should grab one central government and we resolve that debate and not everyone agreed how we resolved it and we were trying to do is how we empower the central government in iraq and that's my question and your answer, general is simply that they know they are creating stability to support some sort of future government. >> yes, sir, as mentioned, the efforts of ambassador jeffreys to get this back to geneva and
part of this process having the discussions to get the players to the table, our activities and the success that we've had not only providing for the defeat of isis, the most successful operations that are being conducted in syria against the violent extremists, but also the success that we're having locally with setting up and supporting the local governments and supporting the reconstruction stabilization and that type of leverage does play into the negotiations that ambassador jefferies has to drive toward a political solution. >> i believe that they can see through that operational perspective and see the value of the effort that they're doing toward the larger, political goal. >> i recognize this is a very difficult situation and in some way you and your troops are in a responsible position and rather than just sort of creating the conditions for some sort of government would be helpful,
helpful to us and also helpful for the troops on the ground, but thank you for what you're doing. >> thank you. >> mr. scott? >> thank you, madam chair. i'm not sure how much influence we have on the political process in syria and i'm sure we have very little control over it. i do have questions that you can answer in the setting that i would safe for the next one, but i do have a question for grew, 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's correct. how many countries is isis in? >> off the top of my head, i
couldn't tell you. i think the reality is the largest preponderance of isis fighters have been contained in iraq and syria. it's where they established territorial control. they have operated more under the radar hiding in population in other countries so if there's a difference in the unique situation we found ourselves in in 2014 where isis took over what was basically a territory the size of indiana. >> so it is territorial control then that the legality of the authorization is based on, and not the fact that isis is there. >> no, i think it's the territorial control that isis had that facilitated or led to certain types of military operations rather than more intelligence or law enforcement activities. we also no longer had government 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 there, but in syria, the previous administration and ope there, but in syria, the previous administration and this administration has continued to rely on the 2001 aumf to -- to conduct its operations. this has been amplified by specific authorities the congress has provided us to provide support to our local partners on the syrian democratic forces, for example, which is authorized in statute. >> so just, i don't think there was ever a win in syria. i mean, just looking at things, and for the united states, i mean, it just -- it was like a kaleidoscope. every time one thing changed, something else changed. the russians clearly already had the high ground and just looking
at the scenario, i want to go back to, we're obviously there. we -- the issue of the legality of us being there is based on isis being there. and just hypothetically, if we follow that through, if isis is in just a hypothetical number, let's say, 20 countries, do we then have the authorization to go into all of these 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 to take -- >> can i ask you a follow-up? when you say we, do you mean congress or the administration? >> the united states writ large. i think our operations, our activities have been conducted often in large consultation with the congress. our efforts to support local governments in fighting isis, we can't do without explicit
authorities and support from the congress. moneys that are appropriated for our train and equip efforts, for example, are provided by the congress and overseen by the congress. >> i think that -- i think, respectfully, i think some of that might be debatable. but i do -- i am concerned that future administrations, i'm close toidea that just because organization by a certain name is in a country that that gives us the ability to say, well, because they're there, i've 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 -- i think it deserves further -- further discussion. but i have some very specific questions, but i'll yield any remainder of time that i have for the next setting.
>> thank you for yielding back your 14 seconds. appreciate that. representative gabbert? >> thank you, madam chair. thank you, gentlemen. it's been estimated by several sources and confirmed by general dunford publicly that there's approximately 20,000 to 30,000 al qaeda terrorists in a s and jihadist terrorists holed up and in yol control of the city of l in syria. we recently heard in the last several days threats from your administration of quote/unquote dire consequences for military offensive by syria, russia, iran, by the al qaeda terrorists in idlib. james jeffrey stated the u.s. will not tolerate, quote, an attack, period, and that any offensive is to us objectionable as a reckless escalation so
considering the fact, mr. karem, you noted many times just in this hearing that our troops are in syria operating under the authorization to use military force that was passed after al qaeda attacked1 and we're supposed to be at war with al qaeda, my question is how is it in the national security interest of the united states, instead of going after al qaeda, the u.s. is making these threats and essentially acting as the protecters of al qaeda, in idlib, in syria, and other terrorist groups? how is this not a complete kick in the face and insult to the american people, all those lives lost on 9/11, first responders, our troops, their families, everyone who has sacrificed so much. >> congresswoman, i would strongly dispute the notion that we're protecting al qaeda in idlib, we're protecting al qaeda in any fashion.
>> how can you dispute this when all indications if you follow this path and this trail and the reality that al qaeda and other terrorist groups are in control of idlib today? and our congress has threatened any of these other countries who are -- have talked about attacking these terrorist groups in idlib. how can you see it any other fashion? >> we'll be happy to talk about the dynamics in idlib in closed session. >> do you dispute the numbers general dunford confirmed publicly? is. >> i think those numbers may refer to a global isis number. >> he was very specific. he was very specific to say 20,000 to 30,000 plus -- >> there's no dispute that idlib has become a hornet's nest of multiple terrorist organizations. regrettab regrettably, this is the product of the russian and regime approach to consolidating control on the ground in syria. they have -- >> how --
>> -- used the escalation zones and local negotiated deals to purge areas in syria and have used idlib as a dumping ground and they have allowed the free transit of the worst terrorists to go to idlib. >> and the fact is, and i've asked this question of many of our other both civilian and m l military leaders over the last few years, both in the previous administration, this administration, the fact is that the united states'governments and military has not made a concerted 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 in follow-up to some of the questions that were asked earlier with regard to the fact that iraq, any iraq and syria, iran has more influence in those two countries today than ever before in recent history. and since it is apparently not in our national security interests to have iran's influence in that 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 with iran having a stronger presence there than they did, specifically in syria, prior to 2011? >> i'm not sure that i follow that our specific activities are the reason that iran has more -- >> prior to our invasion to iraq, iran had less influence there than after. >> i think there are -- >> in syria, prior to 2011, when this war broke out to overthrow the government, our support, along with saudi arabia, qatar, and other countries, iran had far less of a presence and far less influence in syria than they do today. >> regrettably, iran's presence and influence in syria and lebanon and across the region predates the war -- >> would you not agree that they have far more of a presence and influence today than before? >> i think their influence in syria has far more to do with
the syrian -- >> i'm just asking a simple question about whether or not they have more of a presence and influence today than before 2011. >> sure, but it has nothing to do -- little to do with our policies so much as it does with the syrian civil war and the relationship with bashar al assad. >> time's expired. thank you. mr. gallagher? >> thank you, given that russia -- i'd like to pull the string on the russia angle a little bit. given russia released ports and air bases for some cases five decades, i apologize if this was already covered. to me, this suggests it's about far more than just shoring up support for the assad regime, that russia has a broader regional play in mind. russia's long-term goals and objectives in syria and the eastern mediterranean? >> i think there's a debate in the analytical community about whether russia does have long-term strategies or relies
on short-term tactical improvisation. i would agree i think they're looking simply beyond just shoring up bashar al assad and are utilizing 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 more about some of 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. regrettab regrettably, at every turn, they have chosen not to be partners in trying to end the conflict through peaceful negotiations, but instead, have complicated the political situation on the ground with their full-throated support for the assad regime and willingness to partnership to partner with iran on the ground. >> and i hope in closed session we can dig in deeper to the nature of that partnership,
particularly as it pertains to operational coordination between russia and terrorist proxies and hezbollah deployed to syria. general benedict, i don't know, is it possible in open session, obviously the russian deployed s-300s and s-400s to syria since at least twir2006. in the last few weeks we heard s-300s are being transferred to the assad regime. y can you give us an assessment of what that means, if anything, for our ability to conduct operations and by extension, does that place limits on our allies, the israelis in particular, their ability to conduct operations in and around syr syrian airspace? >> i think i'd like to take most of the details of the question about both our operations or our partners into the closed session, but i think what i would say is that the introduction of more of these
systems and only serves to create more unstable conditions and the likely hoot llihood of miscalculation, such as f what we tragically saw earlier in the week with the russian plane being shot down by the syrians. . i think my greatest concern is the more things we're putting into this small area, particularly as we're starting to close in north part of syria, the more dangerous the entire situation becomes because the instability. >> it might limit our options if, for example, russian personnel were in an area and we were contemplating taking action, we might be more loathe to do so as the result of abductian introduction of such technologies. just quickly on what my colleague, mr. scott,s was ta w talking about, ambassador boldin said a third strike on the regime would be, he used the term, qualitatively 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 the sort of grabbag of authorities that you referenced earlearlier? or would it be interested in seeking a new authorization for these military force in syria? >> i think secretary mattis would not want us to opine on hypothetical or operational matters. >> it would be fun to do so right now. >> not fun for me when i got back t back to the department. i would say the administration has produced and provided pub c public -- authorities it operated in the april strike that i would refer you to that speaks at length to the authorities it has to respond to the previous use of chemical weapons. >> well, my concern with the reasoning laid out in that document, you're placing a lot of weight on the inherent
constitutional authority of the commander in chief to conduct foreign relations. as everyone knows, i mean, the constitution vests enormous war declaration and war-making authority in the congress of the united states. so i think there are many of us hire that would suggest that we have stretched the logic to beyond the bounds of recognition and there's a bipartisan interest in doing something about it. i recognize fully that ultimately, this is not necessarily the fault of the branch. it's a fault of congress' unwillingness to do its basic duty. and i've run out of my time. i apologize. >> thank you. >> thank you. mr. karem, let's go back to russia. i heard some things i just -- kind of astound me. russia's goals always seem clear to me, has been since presideth. make sure you keep turkey off the sidelines and destabilize their alliances to us, which, by the way, at this point seems what they got.
what else do they want? what else do they have before us? they're propping up a up. p puppet. they still have their puppet. they're tieing us down to what seems to me to be a war or operation, whatever you want to call it, that has no end, which eventually just starts sucking away at our resources we need to take care of the interests we really care about, which from i understand historically, continued freedom of the seas, continued war rejection of human rights, counterterrorism, and defense of israel. how are we not actually basically falling into the russian traps by basically continuing to, you know, basically engage in this quagmire without -- without an end, and actually end up rejecting some of these other interests that are extremely important to the united states? >> so i think it's regrettable that russia's behavior in syria
has complicated this conflict and made a political resolution more complicated. but i don't think it's necessarily tied us down. in fact, i think if you compare the success that the united states and its partners have had in defeating isis, and liberating territories in areas where we have operated in syria, with russia and the regime's efforts against isis and al qaeda, i think we stack up remarkably well. in fact, it's what we're focuseded focused on. >> we're further separated from turkey as our nato ally since the start of this war. they still have the port they had before. they still have assad. at the same time, we're clearly not getting out of there any time soon. at the same time, we're also taking our interest to other areas. on all scopes of this, we're losing right now in terms of protecting our overall interests outside of syria. that aside, let me leave that there, right now, i'd like to ask you another question.
departmentauthorized to fight the syrian government, correct? >> we're not intervening in the syrian civil war. we don't have the authority. >> what's being ensured -- >> yun restate the question? >> correct. the department is not authorized to fight the syrian government. what is being done to ensure u.s. forces or funds are not being used to engage in hostilities with syrian government forces? >> is so, i mean, i think congress has been fairly explicit with us in terms of how we allocate our funds and the vetting procedures we use with respect to training and equipping, which we report on a regular basis. both the procedures we use to vet, as well as, you know, the activities of our partners. that's one example of how carefully we add mere to the restrictions the congress has placed on our authorities in syria. >> and to engage in a hypothetical, if you can, you
know, much like him, i also served in iraq and played a lot a whack-a-mole through haditha, a lot of cities on the map today. the last thing i want to see is other young men and women playing whack-a-mole indefinitely through the syrian plains. what is the definition of true defeat against isis? if our operational -- if our orders are to be there until isis is defeated, what does that actually mean in syria? because what i'm interpreting right now, we may actually defeat isis and actually destroy the functionalties of is yn iis. there's this other element, the idea isis may exist, that's the pretext of why we should stay in syria when, in fact, it's just for us to, you know, buffer against iran. which if that's the case, then you should come back to congress and actually ask for that
authorization. >> so i think the last thing that we want is to continue to simply playing whack-a-mole. and we want to avoid the mistakes we have made in the past. and ensure what we leave behind in syria and iraq means u.s. servicemen and women aren't going to have to come back and fight an even more dangerous enemy. but this is why the political resolution of the conflict, it's why the political and security 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, whether that's 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 and respectful of the local populations who can keep control. and unfortunately, we don't see
an indication that the assad regime is going to result in that kind of stability. >> okay. well, votes are going to be at 4:45 to 5:00. so this is going to conclude the open portion of afternoon's hearing and we'll walk upstairs to 2216 for the classified discussion. we'll adjourn for three minutes and promptly reconvene. thank you very much.
north dakota senator heidi heitkamp says she'll vote against brett kavanaugh for the supreme court. she's one of two democrats who had not announced how she'd vote. she could a fargo tv station today, "the process has been bad but at the oentend of the day y have to make a decision." another senate democrat who has yet to announce a decision is joe manchin. we're waiting to hear from jeff flake of arizona, susan collins of maine, and lisa murkowski of alaska.
senators are now reviewing the fbi report into sexual assault allegations against supreme court nominee brett kavanaugh. we expect a vote to limit debate tomorrow with the final confirmation vote possible this weekend. meanwhile, senate floor debate continues on the nomination, which you can watch live on c-spa c-span2. we'll also replay all today's senate debate this evening at 8:00 p.m. eastern on c-span2. president trump holds a rally later today in minnesota. he's on the road to campaign for republican candidates running for the u.s. senate, u.s. house and governors seat. watch live coverage at 7:30 eastern on c-span, your primary source for campaign 2018. the c-span bus was recently in honolulu, hawaii, for the 39th stop of our 50 capitals tour. this weekend, we feature our visit to hawaii on c-span, booktv, and american history tv.
exploring hawaii's history and culture, as well as public policy issues facing the state. saturday, on c-span at 7:00 a.m. eastern on "washington journal," leo asuncion, director of hawaii's office of planning, will talk about homelessness and lack of affordable housing. on booktv on c-span2 at noon, stuart coleman on his book "eddie would go" on the life of legendary surfer eddie akai. then a visit for the extensive book collection of late u.s. senator daniel inoe. on "washington journal," jeff mikulina, executive director of the blue planet foundation on renewable energy efforts in hawaii. on "american history tv" on c-span3, at 2:00 p.m. eastern we visit the valley of the priest.
in the wimaya valley along the north shore of oahu. at 4:00 p.m. eastern, three short documentaries about hawaii. the 1956 film "soldier in hawaii." the 1924 silent film "the hawaiian islands." and the 1952 film, "longines ch chronoscope." listen to hawaii weekend on the free c-span radio app. we'rehonolulu mayor kirk caldwell saturday at 10:00 a.m. eastern. on constitution day, c-span visited the national constitution center in philadelphia where we asked folks what does it mean to be american? >> i feel like i'm home, you know, you know, when you feel like you're at home so you feel like you're comfortable to live here. >> well, for me, what it meant
was that i was blessed to have been born in a country, one of the countries with the most freedoms for people. for all people to pursue happiness and life. and joy with their families. and a living. >> freedom to pursue your dreams and opportunities. friendship. getting along with everybody here in america. just, family and love. >> it's simply doing your responsibilities both civic and family and everything like that. as a daughter of service members, as a service member, myself, or a former service member, i felt it was my responsibility under the
constitution to go ahead and do my duty and serve the country. >> i feel like it's freedom to pursue your happiness and really this is a line of opportunity for me. i've been able to be whatever i wanted to be and do what i love for a living. where in the country where i come from, this wouldn't be very possible. >> this year for student cam, we're asking middle and high school students to produce a five- to six-minute documentary answering the question, what does it mean to be american? $100,000 in total cash prizes including a grand prize of $5,000. so tell us, what does it mean to be american? the deadline is january 20th. for more information, go to our website, studentcam.org. craig newmark created the classified ad website, craigsli craigslist, in 1996. he recently donated $20 m
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