With the defeat of Islamic State, both Russia and China are attempting to grow their influence across the Middle East, adding to the growing concerns for the United States, the commanding general of Central Command said on Tuesday.

Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), described an array of steps those “great power” nations have taken to expand their military and political clout in a way that challenges American interests from Syria to Afghanistan.

Describing the chief issues facing the U.S. military in the region, Votel took aim at what he characterized as Moscow’s attempts to monopolize events in Syria, where the course of a grinding civil conflict was redirected by Russia’s military intervention in 2015.

Although President Vladimir Putin announced a drawdown of Russian forces from Syria in December, Moscow’s continued military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has allowed his government to claw back areas under opposition control.

In Syria, “Moscow is playing the role of arsonist and firefighter . . . fueling tensions and then trying to resolve them in their favor, and then manipulating all the parties they can in order to achieve their objectives,” he said during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.

The general blamed Russia for failing to enforce a U.N.-backed cease fire approved over the weekend. “Either Russia has to admit that it’s not capable, or it doesn’t want to play a role in ending the Syrian conflict here,” he said. “I think their role is incredibly destabilizing.”

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Votel, meanwhile, said that Russia had “exaggerated” the threat posed by an Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan and had mischaracterized that group’s rise as an indication of a failed U.S. strategy.

Votel pointed out that the Middle East was being used as a testing ground for new weapons of the Russian military and that they have scant consideration for the effect that those have on the civilian populace. The Chinese, he said, have opened a base in Djibouti and are trying to sell arms to US allies while openly courting Iran.

Iran is another nation trying to greatly increase its influence. They’re pushing their agenda thru proxies in the region and the recent airstrikes by Israel in Lebanon of their bases there are in addition to other moves in Syria and Yemen.

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