Trump was briefed on Afrin, CIA director says

Mike Pompeo called Hizbollah a threat and said Iran’s co-operation with North Korea presents a “real risk”

CIA Director Mike Pompeo responds to interview questions from Marc A. Thiessen during "Intelligence Beyond 2018," a forum hosted by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington, U.S., January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

The director of the CIA Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that he briefed Donald Trump about Turkey’s incursion into Syria, highlighting at the same time the importance of “bringing in Sunni partners” to fight terrorist groups in the war-ravaged country.

Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, Mr Pompeo gave inside details of what goes on behind closed doors when he gives his almost daily classified briefing that the US president receives in the White House.

Nearly everyday, he said, “I tremble down from Langley [CIA headquarters] to the White House” for the daily briefing. “Someone shouts ‘Pompeo, you’re in’, and we deliver it to him,” the head of the CIA said describing a process that lasts for almost 40 minutes, and has gained him the confidence of Mr Trump.

In attendance alongside Mr Trump at the briefing are usually national security adviser HR McMaster, director of national intelligence Dan Coats and vice president Mike Pence.

Tuesday’s briefing, he revealed, addressed the situation in Afrin, Syria, where Turkey has launched an operation against Kurdish militants. The US has called on Ankara to show restraint in the operation against pro-US trained and aligned groups (the YPG and SDF), while confirming open channels and co-ordination with its Nato ally.

Asked about the policy in Syria and the potential to form a coalition of Sunni forces against terrorist groups, Mr Pompeo said such a goal is an “imperative”.

“We need Sunni partners and we are working diligently to do that in Syria, and we have made real progress,” he said. “The CIA understands that, and it is imperative to achieve it”.

The size and make-up of such a force was unclear, but Mr Pompeo referenced efforts by the department of defence to “bring in Sunni partners alongside our Kurdish partners in eastern Syria”. Yesterday, the head of the US central command, General Joseph Votel, made a surprise visit to Raqqa as part of US stabilisation efforts in areas liberated from ISIL.

Mr Pompeo, who is known for his hawkish views on Iran, told the audience it remains hard to detect when Tehran violates the nuclear deal, and its co-operation with North Korea presents “a real risk”.

He also mentioned the threat of Hizbollah as part of the growing role of non-state actors and cyber threats such as WikiLeaks facing the US. They have “no flag at the UN but represent a real threat”.

While describing the leader of North Korea as a “rational actor”, Mr Pompeo warned that he is only “months away” from developing a warhead that would reach the US.

On Yemen, the CIA director described a recent briefing in which Mr Trump asked for more details on the humanitarian situation, and of later channelling that concern to US partners in the region.

This week the Saudi-led coalition announced new measures to address the humanitarian situation, including donating $1.5 billion in aid to relief organisations, opening more ports and creating safe-passage corridors.