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DoD Spokesman Urges Focus on Humanitarian Issues, Defeating ISIS in Syria

As the Syrian Democratic Forces continue to develop their defensive positions against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the middle Euphrates River valley, it’s important to stay focused on the key objectives, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters today.

“We remain concerned about the situation in northwest Syria, and call on all parties to remain focused on defeating ISIS, de-escalating and resolving the Syrian conflict, and protecting innocent civilian lives,” Army Col. Robert Manning III said, referring to advances into Syria by Turkish forces.

The United States is not involved in the movement of forces of either side, he said, but U.S. officials are very concerned about the effect that fighting there has had on its defeat-ISIS efforts. The United States would like to see an end to the hostilities before ISIS has the opportunity to regroup in eastern Syria, Manning said.

“We cannot allow ISIS to gain momentum at this critical point,” he stressed.

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Humanitarian Concerns

“We have recognized Turkey’s legitimate security concerns on its borders,” the colonel said. “We’re also deeply concerned about the prospects of combat in densely populated areas. Further operations beyond the border regions will draw in more forces and further exacerbate an already deteriorating humanitarian situation.”

Manning said the United States is concerned about reports of civilians who are unable to access potable water. “Clean water is vital to survival,” he added. “We encourage all parties to allow the free flow of these resources in humanitarian aid — much needed humanitarian aid — throughout Syria.”

He said the United States again calls on all parties to remain focused on defeating ISIS, adhere to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2401, protect innocent civilians and avoid actions that would escalate tensions in that area.  

The U.N. Security Council passed the resolution Feb. 24, demanding that those involved in Syria’s seven-year-long conflict cease hostilities for at least 30 days for a “durable humanitarian pause,” in which weekly humanitarian aid deliveries can be made and critically sick and wounded people can be evacuated.

Iraq Clearance Operations

Manning also provided an update on the fight against ISIS in Iraq. In Badush, near Ninevah, he said, Iraqi clearance operations resulted in confiscating a large cache of weapons that included small arms, hand grenades, ammunition and explosives.

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Near Hawija, 10 improvised explosive devices and three tunnel networks were destroyed and more than 50 IEDs were destroyed near Tal Kayf, Manning said.

In Anbar province, he added, Iraqi forces conducted clearance operations on several structures near Akashat and confiscated munitions. In separate operations in Anbar, also Iraqi forces destroyed large quantities of explosives and more than 10 rockets.

Niger Investigation

Additionally, the investigation into the deaths of four U.S. service members during an Oct. 4 advise-and-assist mission in Niger will soon be in the hands of Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, Manning said.

The secretary has said he expects the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, to send him his review of the investigation.

“The secretary has already asked a few questions on the report and will study what the chairman sends him, compare the two and move forward,” Manning said. “The secretary remains committed to getting this right, and when his endorsement is ready, we will brief you in much more detail after the families have been notified and after we notify Congress,” he told reporters.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk @MoonCronkDoD)