Defense Secretary James Mattis said Thursday that although the U.S. strategy in Syria is to defeat ISIS and “not engage in the civil war itself,” some things, like the use of chemical weapons, are “simply inexcusable beyond the pale” and “in the worst interest… of civilization itself.”
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Speaking at a House Armed Services Committee hearing, Mattis made the comments as justification for last year’s U.S. missile strikes on Syria but did not suggest what military action the administration might take in Syria in the coming days.
On the complicated nature of the fight in Syria, Mattis said “at times you’re going to see contrary impulses,” after Rep. Joe Courtney, a Connecticut Democrat, read out some of President Donald Trump’s tweets this week, first vowing to strike Syria, then suggesting the strikes may not be soon.
Mattis placed blame on Russia for the continuing alleged chemical attacks in Syria.
“You saw President Obama try to deal with those chemical weapons when he was in and enlisting the Russians who now it shows were complicit in Syria retaining those weapons, Assad retaining them – and the only reason Assad is still in power is because of the Russians regrettable vetoes in the UN and the Russian and Iranian military,” Mattis said.
But asked what is the best approach to deal with the conflict in Syria, Mattis said the U.S. remains committed to “ending that war through the Geneva process, the UN orchestrated effort.”
Mattis said that he has seen refugees from all over the world, including in Kosovo and Africa, he has never seen “refugees as traumatized as coming out of Syria. It’s got to end and our strategy remains the same as a year ago, to drive this to a UN-brokered peace, but at the same time keep our foot on the neck of ISIS until we suffocate it.”
Mattis also vowed to notify congressional leaders of any military action before it is taken, and make a full report on any potential action to Congress afterward.