Top US general says the fight in Syria is “important” for security after surprise visit

Milley believes an "enduring defeat" of ISIS is possible, but didn't say how far away that is.
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
mark milley
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley (Department of Defense)

Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, made an unexpected visit to U.S. forces in Syria. The top general visited American troops in the country’s northeast to hear from them about how the fight against ISIS is going. The visit also comes after recent attacks on bases housing American soldiers. 

Milley was asked by reporters if the mission in Syria was worth the risk, per Reuters. He directly connected U.S. presence in the country with the nation’s national security. 

“If you think that that’s important, then the answer is ‘Yes,’” he said. ”I happen to think that’s important.”

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Despite ISIS being driven from its last stronghold of Baghouz, Syria in 2019, the United States and partners have been continuing to fight and hunt down members of the terrorist group. That has predominantly been in Syria, where the United States has been carrying out several helicopter raids, but the hunt for ISIS has extended to Somalia as well. In January, the U.S. killed multiple members of ISIS in Somalia, including Bilal al-Sudani, described as a “leader” of the group in the country..

Even with combat operations continuing, Milley said that an “enduring defeat” of the terrorist group “can be done,” although he did not give any indication of how far away the U.S. mission is from that benchmark. 

Milley’s comments come a day after U.S. Central Command released a report detailing the number of anti-ISIS operations carried out with partners both in Syria and Iraq in February. Those operations were conducted with Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces. The report documented 33 partnered operations in Iraq, plus 15 partnered ones and two unilateral missions in Syria during the month. Despite ISIS’ many defeats, CENTCOM said, continued pressure is needed in order to prevent the group from rebuilding itself and be able to carry out new attacks against the United States and allies. “The fight against ISIS continues,” CENTCOM commander Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla said in the report, also not giving any indication of what a full victory for the U.S.-led coalition over ISIS would be.

The United States military has approximately 2,500 troops stationed in Iraq, and 900 in Syria (plus several more in nearby neighboring countries).

Milley’s visit to Syria also comes after one American base in the country’s southeast was recently attacked. The al-Tanf base, near the border with Jordan and Iraq, houses both American and SDF fighters and a trio of one-way attack drones were fired at it on Jan. 20. Two were shot down but one hit the compound, wounding two Syrians. 

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