Brett McGurk, Jim Mattis, and Joseph Dunford
© DOD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith
Defense Sec. Jim Mattis, center, details the first revised ISIS War plan of the Trump administration, with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, and Special Envoy Brett McGurk, at the Pentagon, Fri., May 18, 2017.
On Friday Secretary of Defense [General ret.] Mattis, General Dunford and Special Envoy McGurk on the Campaign to Defeat ISIS held a press briefing. A transcript is available.

My first thought after reading its was: "These people live in a different world. They have no idea how the real word works on the ground. What real people think, say, and are likely to do." There was no strategic thought visible. Presented were only some misguided tactical ideas.

One purpose of the briefing was obviously to souse the Saudis in preparation of Trumps weapons sales campaign there. There was no mention at all of any (Saudi financed) Jihadis in Syria or elsewhere besides ISIS. Questions about Kurdish or Iraqi paramilitary groups were answered with trash talk about Iran.

Besides that some notable points were made.

Dunford of the Joint Chiefs of Staff remarked at one point that the Raqqa campaign was not delayed by the decision of Trump's National Security Advisor Flynn to temporarily halt the Obama order to launch that operation. He thereby rejected the accusations in a McClatchy news piece that Flynn's decision significantly delayed the campaign and that he was motivated by Turkish payments to him. A MoA piece had listed that McClatchy report as fake news. Turkish consulting payments to Flynn had ended three month earlier, the decision was reasonable and the Raqqa campaign was not delayed by it. Dunford confirmed that.

The recent unprovoked and illegal U.S. air attack on a Syrian Army contingent moving towards the al-Tanf border station with Iraq was probably a local decision taken by an over-eager U.S. commander on the ground. Dunford said:
Our commanders on the ground felt like they were threatened at that point. And their rules of engagement allow them to do that.

We've gone back and -- and -- and had a conversation at every level now to ensure that those kinds of incidents don't take place again. Last night, I -- I made a commitment that they wouldn't happen again if our forces weren't threatened. And everybody understands what the rules are. So, that's what's going to prevent it in the future.
As I understand this Dunford means: "Our people on the ground screwed up and were emphatically told not to do such again."

There was no eagerness shown by any of the speakers to get into a fight with Russia. They emphasized coordination with Russia but their understanding of that seems very one-sided. Russia has not confirmed any coordination or de-conflicting in south Syria. Neither Russia nor the Syrian government and its allies want the U.S. to operate in south-east Syria and they will do their best to prevent further moves. There will therefore be no "coordination" for any movement of U.S. proxies in the area.

Ehsani, a reasonably neutral Syrian observer, remarked on the press briefing of that incident:
Number of reporters naturally asked about recent coalition strikes on "Iranian assets" near al Tanaf. The responses were noteworthy.

Mattis followed that up by saying strike was self-defense against what looked like offensive forces that seemed to be Iranian-directed.

Mattis further explained that he believed (could not confirm) that Russians had asked those forces to stop the advance but failed to do so.

Dunford then described how US & Russian forces decided to increase level of communication even further to avoid such incidents in future.

The need, desire and enthusiasm for "De-conflicting" with the #Russians was heard repeatedly during the press conference.

Generals admitted that #Syrian theater is fraught with dangers and risk of accidents and increased communication with #Russia will help.
As predicted in the piece on the incident the Syrian Army continues to move towards al-Tanf despite the U.S. bombing attack. It is now also pushing on a second axis in Suweida along the Syrian-Jordan border. The attacked main movement from the north-west received reinforcements and continues, it is claimed, under air cover. Al-Tanf is a Syrian border station on Syrian grounds and the Syrian government has all rights to take control of it. Norwegian government media reported that Norwegian troops were now occupying al-Tanf. Who cares? Al-Tanf is not a place where a presence of Norwegian or any other U.S. proxy troops has any legitimacy. The Syrian government had stated that it will take control of that station. That's it. There is no need for "de-conflicting" in the area because the U.S. and its proxies have no legitimate reason to be there. "De-confliction" in the area is very simple. Just stay away.

Ehsani spent had some additional thoughts on the press briefing:
Reporters also asked about role of #Turkey and how unhappy Ankara is with US cooperation with #SDF . Responses were both clear & awkward. All 3 repeated how #Turkey is an important ally which they visited so many times recently BUT that on this issue our views differ. Let us not forget that #Turkey reportedly asked for firing of @brett_mcgurk and here he was explaining how they are important ally BUT...

As to what happens after #ISIS is defeated, @brett_mcgurk stressed that US will not be into "nation building" but in "stabilization" mode.
@brett_mcgurk then made sure to mention that US will NOT work with #Assad regime during stabilization effort. He then said following:
@brett_mcgurk proclaimed that "people of #Raqqa are unanimous that they don't Syrian regime to come back". This was remarkable statement.
@brett_mcgurk is an extremely effective, smart & able individual. His statement on #Raqqa post #ISIS has many implicit implications.
@brett_mcgurk comment can easily be construed as supporting partition of #Syrian post #ISIS. This is only meaning of #Raqqa sans SY State.

Interestingly, not a single reporter asked about strategy and fate of none #ISIS jihadists belonging to other groups. Press conference failed to mention the words #Nusra #Alqaeda #Turkustani #Ughurs #Muhaysni even once.

I have just received reports that Muhaysni held an important meeting in Maara't al Nuaman #idlib yesterday to help implement new strategy.
#Syrian jihadists have just been advised to shave their beard & join #FSA groups if need be in order to re-organize, re-arm, re-position. New jihadist strategy is to look non-jihadist. Muhaysni & others are drawing parallels to how 09/11 perpetrators did so & succeeded. Recent report by @jenanmoussa on life in #Idlib was contrary to new momentum behind changing jihadi appearance, hence strong reaction.

Given @brett_mcgurk remarks on #Raqqa & reports of de-Jihading the appearance of #Idlib, ATTEMPT TO PARTITION #SYRIA NOW IS MORE REAL
But that attempt seem to be divorced from reality.

I sincerely doubt that any operation to conquer Raqqa city will happen anytime soon. The only troops available for that are Syrian Kurds of the YPG. But the Kurds demanded public political guarantees from the U.S. for their future autonomy in exchange for efforts (and many casualties in their rows) in the city of Raqqa. The U.S. can not give such a commitment as its NATO partner Turkey is adamantly against that. In the press briefing the generals declared that isolating ISIS and blocking its fighters from moving out is now the most important issue for them. I understand that as a hint that there is a plan for a siege of the city of Raqqa but no for moving into it.

There is another, (the third?), attempt to whitewash al-Qaeda in Idleb. The State Department has refrained from putting the again renamed al-Qaeda organization there onto its foreign terrorist entities list. Supporting it under the new name is thereby arguably still legal. The Arabic version of the Qatari al-Jazeera channel is now defending and promoting al-Qada in Syria leader Jolani who practically rules over Idleb

But the recent TV report by Jenan Mussa (vid) proves without doubt that Idleb is controlled by al-Qaeda in Syria and that it is pushing to implement its brutal version of Islamic law. There were some feeble attempts to debunk it and to sell al-Qaeda under its new name Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as a reasonably moderate local Syrian force. The Saudi/Qatar paid Jihadist promoter Charles Lister fronts the meager efforts.

But such efforts have failed before. Al-Qaeda can not be reformed. The Saudi financed al-Qaeda in Idleb is competing with the now Turkish controlled Ahrar al-Sham Jihadis. Today Ahrar al Sham's headquarter in Idleb was blown up by two suicide bombers. Up to 40 people were killed including some high commanders. A first Ahrar statement blamed ISIS for the attack but within the local context, an al-Qaeda attack seems much more likely. It is quite doubtful that such an incident will result in further support for the attempted al-Qaeda whitewash. Especially Turkey will note that its proxy force was the one that was hit. It controls the borders of Idleb through which supplies must come in. It has no interest in pampering al-Qaeda.

The statements of the generals and diplomats in the Defense Department press briefing seemed divorced from the realities on the ground. The Russian positions on the U.S. attempts in the south-east and "de-conflicting" were misrepresented. No reality based plan or timetable for the Raqqa campaign was evident. The festering situation in Idleb was not mentioned at all.

There was no strategic plan visible behind the delusional talks about tactical items. Ehsani feels that the strategic U.S. plan is to partition Syria. But where are the real preparations for that? What does "stabilization" in Raqqa mean? Who will pay the teachers there from which source of income under who's long term control? No "nation-building" means no money for such efforts. Brett McGurk still dreams of replacing the Syrian president Assad with some pliable leader who can control the country. The "hope" for that is six years old and long gone. What is his plan to achieve that? What is he drinking?

Trump has given the generals the authority to solve the issues in Syria and Iraq. Neither the generals nor McGurk gave the impression of having the necessary capabilities to achieve such.