‘I think that an enduring defeat of IS and continuing to support our friends and allies in the region… are important tasks that can be done’
The nearly decade-old U.S. deployment to Syria to combat Islamic State (IS) is still worth the risk, the top U.S. military officer said Saturday after a rare, unannounced visit to the war-torn country’s northeast to meet U.S. troops.
U.S. Army General Mark Milley flew to Syria to assess efforts to prevent a resurgence of the jihadist group and review safeguards for U.S. forces against attacks, including from drones flown by Iran-backed militia.
Islamic State is a shadow of the group that ruled over a third of Syria and Iraq in a 2014 caliphate, with hundreds of fighters holed up in desolate areas where neither U.S. nor Syrian forces exert full control. Thousands of other IS fighters are in detention facilities guarded by Kurdish-led forces, a key ally to the United States there.
Yet, U.S. officials have warned that IS could still resurge into a major threat.
Asked by reporters if he believed the Syria deployment of roughly 900 U.S. troops to Syria was worth the risk, Milley tied the mission to the United States and its allies, saying: “If you think that that’s important, then yes.”
“I think that an enduring defeat of IS and continuing to support our friends and allies in the region… are important tasks that can be done,” he urged.
The mission does carry risk. Four U.S. troops were wounded during a helicopter raid last month, and in January, three drones targeted a U.S. base in Syria’s al-Tanf region. U.S. Army Major General Matthew McFarlane cited progress against IS and said he believed there would come a time when U.S. partners in Syria could manage on their own.