Top US commander completes day-long secret visit to Syria

Posted at 5:11 PM, May 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-21 17:11:23-04

Gen. Joseph Votel, commanding general of U.S. Central Command, completed a secret several-hour-long trip to northern Syria to visit several locations where there are U.S. special operations forces and meet with local forces the U.S. is helping train to fight ISIS.

CNN was the only television news team to accompany him.

The visit to northern Syria occurred during a trip to other countries in the region. It comes amid an effort by the U.S. military to accelerate efforts to bring more local Arab and Kurdish forces into the fight in both Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS.

Votel is the highest-ranking U.S. military official to travel into Syria during its war. CNN has been asked to not disclose the exact location of the multiple places he visited. CNN also agreed to not disclose the intense security precautions, including how Votel flew into Syria.

The visit comes as the first of 250 additional U.S. special operations forces are beginning to arrive in Syria to work with local forces.

The U.S. troops are focused on training small numbers of forces and then sending them out into the field with larger groups. The local forces are being trained on very specialized tasks, such as how to call in precise and timely intelligence reports from the battlefield that could result in coalition airstrikes against ISIS targets. While the ultimate goal in Syria is to assemble perhaps thousands of Arab fighters to retake Raqqa from ISIS, top U.S. officials privately say that could take months.

The meetings included discussions with top Syrian Democratic Forces officials who are asking for arms and ammunition.