Mattis on Syria Strategy: We Must 'Keep Our Foot on the Neck of ISIS Until We Suffocate It'

April 12, 2018

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday said the United States is not going to engage in the civil war in Syria but will continue to focus on defeating ISIS.

Mattis, who was addressing a hearing of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, would not discuss the U.S. military strategy process, but he did talk about the importance of defeating ISIS and protecting civilians in Syria.

"Both the last administration and this one made very clear that our role in Syria is the defeat of ISIS," Mattis said. "We are not going to engage in the civil war itself. Now you can look back to a year ago when we did fire missiles into Syria unrelated to ISIS and that was of course the use of chemical weapons. And some things are simply inexcusable, beyond the pale, and in the worst interest of not just the chemical weapons convention, but of civilization itself."

Mattis then took a shot at the Obama administration for, as it attempted to remove chemical weapons from Syria, enlisting help from the Russians, who Mattis said are now "complicit" in helping the Assad regime retain the weapons.

"The only reason Assad is still in power is because of the Russians regrettable vetos in the [United Nations] and the Russian and Iranian military. So how do we deal with this very complex situation?" Mattis said. "First of all, we are committed to ending that war through the Geneva process through the U.N. orchestrated effort. It has been unfulfilled because again Russia has continually blocked the effort."

He went on to talk about Syrian refugees and the atrocities they have had to endure during the civil war, commenting that he has never seen refugees more traumatized.

"It's got to end, and our strategy remains the same as a year ago. It is to drive this to a U.N. brokered peace, but at the same time, keep our foot on the neck of ISIS until we suffocate it," Mattis said.

Earlier in the morning, President Donald Trump, following up on a tweet he made a day earlier about a potential missile strike in Syria, tweeted he "never said when an attack would take place."

"Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!" Trump tweeted.

"In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS," he added. "Where is our ‘Thank you America?'"

Later in the morning, the president said a decision on Syria will be made "fairly soon."