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U.S. Troops Training Ukrainian Soldiers, Mattis Says

Military trainers from the United States, Canada, Poland and Lithuania are training Ukraine service members at a training base in western Ukraine, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon this morning.

Just ahead of his afternoon meeting with Ukraine’s defense minister, Stepan Poltorak, the secretary said, “What we want is the same thing the United States has stood for, for a long time in our history. That is an independent sovereign Ukraine, [in which the government is] making their own decisions about their own future,” he added.

“We’re working with them on reform of their military,” Mattis said. “That will be a lot of what we discuss today. The minister is leading the reform effort, so we’re working with him. And it is … an ongoing effort to make sure that they stay independent and sovereign.”

ISIS ‘On The Ropes’

Turning to the campaign in Iraq and Syria to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Mattis said the enemy “is on the ropes,” adding, “I think now it’s pretty much undeniable that they’re in trouble.”

Yet, the secretary told reporters, the fight against ISIS is not over yet.

“We need to keep the pressure on,” he said.

The U.S.-led coalition wants to get back to finishing off ISIS and destroying all of its geographic holdings, so that they’re on the run, Mattis said.

He added the fight against the enemy needs to “Get it driven down to a point that in Syria, we’re freer to go into the Geneva process, and you now see that that is on track again for all the people who’ve questioned we’d ever get there.”

On the Iraq side, Iraqi forces and the coalition are going after the “small sleeper cells, the small concentrations out in the desert,” Mattis said. “So we want to stay focused on this. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)