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Top US commander for Middle East in secret Syria trip: SDF

General Joseph Votel discusses 'shared military matters' with Kurdish-dominated anti-Islamic State forces
General Votel also visited Syria in May 2016

The top US military commander for the Middle East made a secret trip to northern Syria on Friday to meet a US-backed alliance fighting the Islamic State (IS) group, the alliance's spokesman said.

General Joseph Votel, who heads US Central Command (Centcom), met with leaders from the Syrian Democratic Forces in the first such trip under the new US administration.

In an online statement, SDF spokesman Talal Sello said Votel "visited areas under our control today (Friday) and met with several SDF commanders".

"The results were positive. We discussed the developments in the Euphrates Rage campaign and shared military matters."

He described the meeting as "confirmation of US support for our forces".

An SDF source told AFP the visit lasted four hours.

Votel made a similar trip to Syria in May 2016, meeting with SDF commanders as well as US military advisers working alongside them.  

Founded in October 2015, the SDF alliance is dominated by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), but it also boasts several units of Arab fighters.

US ally and NATO member Turkey has been wary of the SDF's growing influence in northern Syria.

In August 2016, Ankara started a ground military intervention is Syria to push IS militants off its border, but also to quell SDF advances.

The US has special operations forces advising the SDF on the ground in Syria, but no combat units.

On Wednesday, Votel told journalists travelling with him in the Middle East that more US troops might be needed in Syria, although he stressed local forces would be the primary force.

"I am very concerned about maintaining momentum," Votel said, in comments reported by the New York Times and other outlets.

"It could be that we take on a larger burden ourselves."