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By Jim Garamone, DoD News, Defense Media Activity / Published March 15, 2018

Russia has not lived up to its promises on Syria, a senior Pentagon official said here today.

Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth M. McKenzie Jr., the Joint Staff director, answer reporters’ questions during a news conference at the Pentagon, March 15, 2018. DoD photo by Jim Garamone

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Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White said Russia bears responsibility for the massive casualties of innocent civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

White and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the director of the Joint Staff, briefed reporters during a weekly news conference.

Forces loyal to Syrian strongman Bashar Assad have carpet-bombed the neighborhood, causing thousands of casualties since mid-February, according to the United Nations. Reports from the beleaguered area say the Assad forces may have used chlorine bombs in some of the attacks.

White stressed that Russia could stop the fighting in the area. “Russia and Syria are partners,” White said. “Russia enables the Assad regime. The situation in east Ghouta mirrors that we witnessed elsewhere during the Civil War. Russia agrees to a cease-fire, but supports a regime that continues bombing innocent civilians.” She quoted Defense Secretary James N. Mattis’ statement earlier this month that “Russia is either incompetent, committing illegal acts, or both.”

The Syrian civil war will end through only negotiations, and the United States wants all parties to work together to bring the warring factions to the table in Geneva, White said, but Russia is standing in the way of negotiations.

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“The Russians made a deliberate … choice not to restrain the Assad regime,” she said. “Thus, the carnage in east Ghouta continues. Russia is morally complicit and responsible for Assad’s atrocities.”

The ISIS Fight

The fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has slowed in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, McKenzie said. 

Some Syrian Democratic Forces have moved from the battle in the south to Afrin, where Turkish forces have surrounded Kurdish SDF forces. “That has had an effect on our ability to finish off ISIS in the lower Euphrates River Valley,” the general said. “It has slowed the pace of our advance.”

ISIS is not gaining momentum from the slowdown, but it has delayed “the inevitable conclusion” of the campaign, the general said. It is not so much the rank and file who have marched off to Afrin, he explained, but some of the senior leaders of the SDF. “We’re still engaged down there, fighting is still occurring, we’re still pressing them,” McKenzie said. “But it’s not going as fast as it would were all the leadership still down there to be able to assist in that effort.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @Garamone DoDNews)

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