Fewer than 1,000 American troops will stay in Syria, as the war-torn Middle East nation is still threatened by a remnant of the ISIS terrorist group, according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
In an ABC interview that aired Sunday on “This Week,” Gen. Milley said U.S. troops will remain in Syria “for a significant amount of time because it’s in our national interest to be there to help out.”
He also noted that the number of troops who would “be less than 1,000, for sure,” echoing Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said last month that a small force of 1,000 are in Syria to prevent terrorists from gaining access to local oil facilities.
“The footprint will be small, but the objective will remain the same: the enduring defeat of ISIS,” Milley told ABC’s Martha Raddatz in his first interview since he became the nation’s highest-ranking military officer this September. When Raddatz questioned Milley on the number of troops expected to stay in Syria, the general estimated that the number to be “in the 500-ish frame, maybe 600.”
President Donald Trump has repeatedly said it is time for the U.S. military forces to get out of open-ended conflicts around the world, including in Syria. He said in October he didn’t believe it would be necessary to leave any troops in Syria except to secure oil fields.
“I don’t think it’s going to be necessary. I don’t want to leave any troops there. That’s very dangerous territory,” Trump told reporters during a cabinet meeting. “I don’t think it’s necessary other than that we secured the oil in a little different section, but we did secure the oil.”
Milley did not mention Syrian oil, but he acknowledged that the region is still troubled by the ISIS insurgency, which might result a comeback of the jihadist group if without maintaining pressure.
“There are still ISIS fighters in the region and unless pressure is maintained…then there’s a very real possibility that conditions could be set for reemergence of ISIS,” said the general.
When asked how the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would affect the remaining ISIS fighters, who reportedly elected a new leader, Milley said Baghdadi’s death has disrupted them deeply, but the U.S. will keep a close eye on Baghdadi’s successor.
“His death will have a very significant disruptive effect on the organization as a whole,” said Milley. “They have apparently replaced him with another leader.” He added that the U.S. military has already gathered “a considerable amount of information on that individual.”
“We’ll pay attention to him and where opportunities arise, we will go after him as well,” Milley said.