The top U.S. commander for the Middle East secretly visited Syria on Saturday for a first-hand look at efforts to build cohesive alliances of Arab, Kurd and other local fighters to defeat the Islamic State.
Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who is head of U.S. Central Command, became the highest-ranking U.S. military officer known to have entered Syriasince the U.S. began its campaign to counter the Islamic State in 2014.
Votel flew into northern Syria and spent nearly 11 hours in the country. He met with U.S. military advisers working with Syrian Arab fighters, and conferred with leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella group of Kurdish and Arab fighters supported by the U.S.
A small group of reporters accompanied Votel on a flight from Iraq under ground rules that, for security reasons, prohibited disclosing his visit until after he had left Syria.
Votel landed at a dusty outpost, surrounded by wheat fields, that serves as a U.S. camp for American military advisers who are training Syrian Arab troops in basic soldiering skills. Splitting off from the reporters who flew in with him, Votel then visited several other undisclosed locations in Syria before returning to the camp.
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