US pitches plan to Russia to avoid armed conflict in Syria

US pitches plan to Russia to avoid armed conflict in Syria

In a news conference on Friday at the Defense Department, Mattis said the USA will continue to work with the U.N., South Korea, China and Japan to try to find a way out of the situation.

"We have fought ISIS elements from southeast Asia to Africa, collaboration among many nations, intelligence services continues to complicate and blunt ISIS operations even as ISIS continues to pursue and conduct attacks against the United States and our allies through centralized directed plots, but also through inspired attacks", he said.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama had planned to reduce the current number of 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan to some 5,500 by the end of 2015 and withdraw all troops by the end of 2016 when his presidency came to an end. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said last week "the main goal" is to reach Deir el-Zour, an oil-producing region that was largely captured by IS during its great expansion of territory three years ago.

Mattis said the latter change, denying ISIS the chance to escape by enveloping enemy held areas, was critical because it would stop foreign fighters from returning home something he called the "strategic threat". Last month, Trump authorized a series of missile strikes on Syrian government targets after a chemical attack that officials suggested was covered up with the help of Russian Federation. A campaign to seize Mosul in Iraq has been mired in street-by-street fighting and a long-promised push to take Raqqa in Syria has yet to begin.

"They know our intent is the foreign fighters do not get out", he said.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford declined to describe the proposal in detail, but said the Russian military is eager to find ways to avoid an armed U.S.

But the follow-on battle lines are already clear.

"We drive them down to a point where the locals can handle that and it's no longer a transregional, transnational threat", Mattis said. At the same time, Iraqi government forces, also supported by USA advisers and airpower, would advance toward al-Qaim.

West Mosul is surrounded, as is the city of Tal Afar, he said, naming Ninewa, Hawija, and the western Euphrates River Valley as next targets in Iraq.

ISIS, which at its peak controlled vast parts of Iraq and Syria, has lost 55,000 square kilometers of territory since the USA military campaign started in 2014, McGurk said.

Brett McGurk, the USA diplomat in charge of managing the anti-ISIS coalition, pointed to the May 10 assault by US -backed Syrian militias on Tabqa Dam, which holds back Syria's largest reservoir.

Reuters reported in late April that the Trump administration was weighing sending between 3,000 and 5,000 USA and coalition troops to Afghanistan.

Shortly after Mattis said that US government would continue to support Iraqi security forces, the Army announced plans to deploy 250 soldiers from the III Corps Headquarters at Fort Hood to Iraq and Kuwait as part of OIR.

While the Middle Euphrates River Valley corridor may be the next key battleground, US officials believe it will not be the last.