During a press briefing on Friday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was left “speechless” by a reporter’s question about evidence GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson says he has on Chinese military involvement in the Syrian conflict,
“Someone did tell me that he said that earlier today,” Earnest said to laughter. “I guess it’s not common that, uh, maybe it violates my jobs description as a spokesperson to be speechless, but I think in this case I am.”
Carson asserted that China is involved in Syria in response to a question at the Republican debate Tuesday night. The debate question was about President Barack Obama’s decision to send 50 members of special-operations forces to Syria and to keep 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan past the end of his presidency.
The retired neurosurgeon said that having US special-ops forces in Syria is better than not having them there. He then noted that Syria is a “very complex place” where a civil war has dragged on for four years, as President Bashar al-Assad struggles to maintain his authoritarian grip on power.
“You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there,” Carson said.
Thursday night, Carson’s campaign released a memo and a series of documents clarifying Carson’s comments and explaining that Chinese weapons have reportedly shown up in Syria.
“China has had longstanding and well-documented security ties to Syria, provided various military weapons and equipment that Syria is using in the current conflict,” the statement said. “Dr. Carson does not believe China is currently fighting in or deploying troops to Syria, and contrary to press reports, he has never made that assertion.”
Armstrong Williams, a top Carson adviser, told Business Insider earlier this week, however, that intelligence sources and military operatives in the Middle East have told Carson that “Chinese military advisers are on the ground in Syria operating with Russia special operations personnel.”
Earnest’s remarks weren’t the first White House response to the China-in-Syria reports.
When a reporter asked about Carson’s debate comment during a press briefing on Thursday, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said she has “not seen any evidence of Chinese military involvement in Syria.”
And Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes pointed out that China “makes it a practice to not get extended into military conflicts in the Middle East.”
“Their policy over years, if not decades, is to not be overextended in military exercises,” he said.
For his part, Carson rebuffed the White House’s pushback, boasting that he had “better” sources than those in the administration.
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