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Why was U.S. official on sanitized Syrian trip?

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is struggling to explain why its ambassador to Syria participated in a sanitized trip to the country's restive north that President Bashar Assad's regime used to attempt to justify its military crackdown.

Special Section: Anger in the Arab World

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday's trip to the abandoned town of Jisr al-Shughour allowed Ambassador Robert Ford to "see for himself the results of the Syrian government's brutality."

Yet it was unclear how Ford would have gathered such evidence on the government-sponsored tour.

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Nuland said journalists and foreign diplomats saw an "empty town with significant damage." But she said no residents were around to offer an opposing view from the one presented by Syrian government officials.

Nuland insisted it was a "valuable" trip. It was sponsored by Syria's foreign ministry and military.