No Changes in Afghan Policy Asserts US Defense Chief Mattis

United States Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (L) with Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel, commander of US Central Command addressing the Pentagon journalists at the briefing today (April 11)

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Washington, DC – The United States Defense Secretary Jim Mattis today told journalists that the US policy has not undergone any changes nor the US has forgotten the ongoing war.

After he finished addressing the Pentagon journalists, along with Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel, commander of US Central Command, IAT asked Secretary Mattis if Afghanistan is “on the back burner?”

Secretary Mattis in his soft charming style told IAT, “Not at all,” adding, “nothing has changed.”

The question was pertinent as it was only yesterday (April 10) that the Department of Defense (DoD) had announced the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

“Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, 37, of Edgewood, Maryland, died April 8 in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when his unit came in contact with enemy forces using small arms fire during combat operations,” said the DoD statement, adding, “De Alencar was assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.”

Most of the briefing was focused on the Syrian strikes and briefly on North Korea.

Syrian Chemical Attack and the US Reaction

Secretary Mattis confirmed that he’d personally reviewed the intelligence on the Syrian regime’s April 4 chemical attack on its own people, and there is no doubt the regime is responsible for the decision to attack and for the attack itself.

Updating the Pentagon reporters about the April 6 US strike that targeted Syria’s Shayrat airfield, equipment and chemical weapons, Secretary Mattis said, “In response to the attack, our government began a deliberate process, led by the National Security Council, to recommend diplomatic and military options to the president.”

“The National Security Council considered the near-century-old international prohibition against the use of chemical weapons, the Syrian regime’s repeated violations of that international law, and the inexplicably ruthless murders the regime had committed,” Mattis said of the decision-making process.

Mattis stressed that his department examined how best to avoid civilian casualties and that its actions were successful, adding, because DoD was aware of Russian presence at the airfield, appropriate actions were taken to make sure Russians were not injured in the attack.

Based on the considerations Mattis outlined, President Donald J. Trump directed military action consistent with US vital national interests to deter the use of chemical weapons, the secretary said.

“This military action demonstrates the United States will not passively stand by while [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] blithely ignores international law and employs chemical weapons he had declared destroyed,” Mattis said.

Issuing a verbal warning against repetition of Syria’s chemical attack, Secretary Mattis said, “The Syrian regime should think long and hard … before it again acts so recklessly in violation of international law against the use of chemical weapons.”

No Change in ISIS Policy

Secretary Mattis denied that the strikes on Syrian assets following its chemical attack on its people is a separate operation, saying it didn’t change ongoing focus on the campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“Our military policy in Syria has not changed,” the Secretary said. “Our priority remains the defeat of ISIS. ISIS represents a clear and present danger, an immediate threat to Europe, and ultimately, a threat to the United States homeland.”

Votel on Developments

On the developments leading to the Syrian strikes, General Votel noted that Centcom was directed to develop military options in response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons.

“We did that and developed a target-strike package with the goal being to eliminate those capabilities — including airframes, equipment and fuel supplies — that provided offensive military capacity for the regime from Shayrat airfield,” Votel said. “We did not deliberately target personnel in these strikes.”

Once the order was received, the general said, Centcom targeted 59 locations on the airfield and struck 57 of them.

“We assessed that we achieved our stated objective, and the regime’s ability to generate offensive military capability from Shayrat airfield, which we assess was the launching point for this chemical attack, has been severely degraded,” he said.

“We are obviously paying close attention to the environment in the wake of these strikes, and remain appropriately postured to respond as necessary,” he said.

The Centcom commander commended the “exceptional skill and professionalism” of US military forces involved in the strike operation. “They performed extraordinarily well, and we are very, very proud of them,” Votel said.

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