It’s normally the purview of the White House and the State Department to bash the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the Pentagon Wednesday launched a few broadsides at Moscow, accusing it of halfhearted efforts aimed at defeating the Islamic State and bringing peace to Syria.
“The Syrian regime and Russian Federation’s actions have thus far demonstrated that countering ISIS and other violent extremist groups like Nusra Front and al-Qaeda is not their foremost priority,” said Col. Rob Manning, a spokesman at the Pentagon.
“Their collective actions call into question their commitment to deal a lasting defeat to ISIS and other extremist groups.”
Manning read from a prepared statement as he said the U.S. was reorganizing its forces in Syria to try to stabilize so-called de-escalation zones in support of the Geneva peace process, which he accused Russia of undermining.
“They also do not appear to have a plan for how to bring a meaningful conclusion to the civil war that addresses the fundamental problem that led to the rise of ISIS nor do they appear to be serious about the withdrawal of Iranian-backed militias,” Manning said.
Last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis pronounced peace talks sponsored by Russia in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana a failure.
“Astana has not been productive. A lot of effort went into it. Nothing much has come out of it. Now, it is going into Geneva,” Mattis said.
The Geneva process is “starting to gain traction,” and so he said American troops and U.S.-backed Syrian fighters are changing their stance as a result.
“We're changing the composition of our forces to something that supports the diplomats and the Geneva process,” Mattis said.
The Pentagon conceded Wednesday that its official number for U.S. troops in Syria was not truthful, and admitted the real number was about 2,000, not 503.