Head of the US Central Command (Centcom) and top military commander for Middle East, General Joseph Votel, made a secret visit to northern Syria on 21 May to build support from locals to fight Islamic State (Isis) militants.

General Votel met US military advisers working with Syrian fighters and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which consists of Arab and Kurdish fighters, a spokesperson for Centcom said. He toured a handful of places in Syria during his 11-hour visit, AFP reported.

The US is hopeful that training local fighters will help in defeating IS (Daesh) militants who have captured large territories across Syria and Iraq since 2014 and have carried out barbaric executions of numerous civilians.

In a statement, General Votel said that supporting and training local fighters was the right approach to deal with IS. He explained, "I left with increased confidence in their capabilities and our ability to support them. I think that model is working and working well."

The US has not deployed soldiers on ground, but has around 200 military advisers in Syria. The SDF comprises of about 25,000 Kurdish and 5,000 Arab fighters, the number which Washington hopes to increase.

General Joseph Votel
General Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command visited northern Syria on 21 May REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Speaking to the media, SDF deputy commander Qarhaman Hasan said that the group wanted more armoured vehicles, mortars, machine guns and rocket launchers to combat IS. Currently, the fighters depend on smuggled weapons, by Hasan said, "You can't run an army on smuggling." Tribal leaders have also asked the US to provide more humanitarian and military aid.