US

Top US commander makes secret visit to Syria

  • Army Gen. Joseph Votel speaks to reporters Saturday, May 21, 2016 during a secret trip to Syria. Votel said he is encouraged by progress in building local Syrian Arab and Kurdish forces to fight the Islamic State. (AP Photo/Robert Burns)

    Army Gen. Joseph Votel speaks to reporters Saturday, May 21, 2016 during a secret trip to Syria. Votel said he is encouraged by progress in building local Syrian Arab and Kurdish forces to fight the Islamic State. (AP Photo/Robert Burns)  (The Associated Press)

  • Syrian Arab sheik, Abu Khalif, speaks to reporters traveling with Army Gen. Joseph Votel during a secret visit to northern Syria, Saturday, May 21, 2016.  Votel, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East secretly visited Syria for a first-hand look at efforts to build cohesive alliances of Arab, Kurd and other local fighters to defeat the Islamic State.  (AP Photo/Robert Burns)

    Syrian Arab sheik, Abu Khalif, speaks to reporters traveling with Army Gen. Joseph Votel during a secret visit to northern Syria, Saturday, May 21, 2016. Votel, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East secretly visited Syria for a first-hand look at efforts to build cohesive alliances of Arab, Kurd and other local fighters to defeat the Islamic State. (AP Photo/Robert Burns)  (The Associated Press)

  • Syrian Arab trainees practice firing their small arms at an undisclosed training range in northern Syria on Saturday, May 21, 2016.  Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East has secretly visited Syria for a first-hand look at efforts to build cohesive alliances of Arab, Kurd and other local fighters to defeat the Islamic State.  (AP Photo/Robert Burns)

    Syrian Arab trainees practice firing their small arms at an undisclosed training range in northern Syria on Saturday, May 21, 2016. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East has secretly visited Syria for a first-hand look at efforts to build cohesive alliances of Arab, Kurd and other local fighters to defeat the Islamic State. (AP Photo/Robert Burns)  (The Associated Press)

The top U.S. commander for the Middle East has secretly visited Syria for a first-hand look at efforts to build cohesive alliances of Arab, Kurd and other local fighters to defeat the Islamic State.

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who is head of U.S. Central Command, flew into northern Syria on Saturday and spent nearly 11 hours in the country. He met with U.S. military advisers working with Syrian Arab fighters, and conferred with leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces. That's an umbrella group of Kurdish and Arab fighters supported by the U.S.

Votel was the highest-ranking U.S. military officer known to have entered Syria since the U.S. began its campaign to counter the Islamic State in 2014.