The campaign of Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson is hitting back at criticism over a comment he made during Tuesday night’s debate about China being involved in the conflict in Syria.

Carson’s debate comment came in response to a question 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, and then noted that Syria is a “very complex place.”

“You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there,” Carson said.

The remark spawned criticism from foreign-policy experts and scribes, who cast doubt on Carson’s assertion.

On Thursday night, Carson’s campaign pushed back on that criticism. It sent a memo to Business Insider clarifying why Carson said China has a presence in Syria, where the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has been fighting rebel and jihadist groups to maintain his grip on power since the country’s civil war began in 2011. (You can see the full document at the bottom of the post.)

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