Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley has defended the ongoing occupation as necessary to ensure US security
US troops occupying the petroleum-rich region of northeastern Syria have gotten a surprise visit from America’s top-ranking general and a vote of confidence that their illegal deployment is absolutely necessary to keep Americans safe.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley made an unannounced stop at a US base in Syria on Saturday, reportedly to review defenses against attacks by militants and evaluate efforts to prevent a re-emergence by the Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group. After the visit, he told reporters traveling with him that US troops and their local allies are making progress in ensuring that IS won’t rise up again.
Asked whether the Syrian occupation is worth the risks that it carries, Milley said removing the troops would jeopardize the security of the US and its allies. “If you think that that’s important, then the answer is ‘Yes,’” he said. “I happen to think that’s important. So I think that an enduring defeat of ISIS and continuing to support our friends and allies in the region… I think those are important tasks that can be done.”
The partial occupation under the banner of fighting terrorism has dragged on since 2014, in violation of Syria’s sovereignty. It has continued even after the virtual destruction of the group by Russian, Syrian and Iranian forces elsewhere across the country. It has also outlived the US-backed regime-change operation that failed to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.
The US hasn’t set a target date for withdrawing its approximately 900 troops in Syria. US Army General Matthew McFarlane, commander of the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria, has said that Washington envisions its partners developing a “sustainable capacity and capability to keep ISIS in check,” but that will only happen “over time.”
Republican congressman Matt Gaetz introduced a bill last month to end US military deployments to Syria, arguing that lawmakers never authorized the mission. “The United States is currently not in a war with or against Syria, so why are we conducting dangerous military operations there?” he asked. Gaetz added that putting America first means “actually putting the people of our country first – not the interests of the military industrial complex.”
Then-President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of all remaining troops from Syria in 2019, but backtracked later that year, saying: “We’re keeping the oil… We left troops behind only for the oil.”