Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford shot down a recent news report alleging that ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn delayed a military campaign to retake the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa.
McClatchy reported this week that 10 days before President Trump took office, then-National Security Adviser Susan Rice explained to Flynn the plan to retake Raqqa — which included arming Syrian Kurdish fighters, the most effective fighting force on the ground, but whom Turkey considers terrorists.
Flynn told Rice to hold off, “a move that would delay the military operation for months” — according to a timeline prepared by the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). The report suggested that Flynn did so to benefit Turkey, for whom he had been paid to lobby.
But Dunford, who was appointed to the position in 2015 by President Obama, said that Flynn’s decision did not cause any delay in the assault on Raqqa, which has not yet begun:
REPORTER: I’d like to ask the — the two veterans of the Obama administration if the decision at the end of the Obama administration to hold off on arming the [Kurds] and let the Trump administration make that decision, did that have any effect or delaying the assault on Raqqah?
DUNFORD: Yeah, David, I — I can — I can answer that question directly. It did not.
One of the — one of the preconditions for seizing Raqqah was the isolation of Raqqa, which included — just recently completed a very difficult fight in an area called Tabqa. And I think you’re familiar with that, where the Syrian Democratic Forces actually had 100 killed in that battle alone.
So, we are just at about the point where the seizure of Raqqah would’ve taken place in a normal course of events. So, it has not delayed the seizure of Raqqah.
The reporter then asked why an offensive on Raqqa was getting underway now, versus mid-February.
Mattis then chimed in:
MATTIS: Only now are we completing the encirclement of Raqqah and there’s been no delay in the effort to do that other than the normal vagaries of the battlefield where we have to deal with an enemy who’s trying to defeat us.
Trump would eventually decide to arm the Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Dunford and Brett McGurk, the administration’s envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition who also briefed the press alongside Mattis, said they have worked to mitigate Turkish concerns.
“We can’t do this without Turkey. We work with them every single day. We have some differences, as we do with every coalition partner, but they’re very close allies and we consult with them all the time,” McGurk said.