General Mark Milley’s 4 March visit to northern Syria was a “perfectly appropriate” trip to check on the wellbeing of the 1,000 US troops stationed in the war-torn country, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters at a briefing on Wednesday.
“It is in our interests, and it is in Turkey’s interests,” Milley said. “It is for sure something that I needed to do, and it is perfectly appropriate for the chairman to go check on how the forces are doing – especially when they’re in harm’s way.”
“ISIS, the caliphate, was destroyed but there are still remnants of the organisation over there. There are still refugee camps and prison camps there. We are helping out folks, training folks to help secure those,” the general continued.
Turkey has a common interest with the United States in the “enduring defeat of ISIS”, Milley said.
The US troops stationed in the Kurdish-held part of northern Syria have been facing occasional attacks “with various types of munitions by various actors”, he said.
In his visit, Milley had said the enduring defeat of ISIS and continued support to “our friends and allies in the region” were important tasks to pursue.
Syrian Kurds, the political and military organisations of whom Turkey considers to be terrorists, have been the main boots-on-the-ground force in the ongoing international campaign against ISIS, and responsible for the jihadist group’s military defeat in the region. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) controls the prison camps that house tens of thousands of ISIS members and their families.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned US Ambassador to Turkey Jeff Flake to explain the reasons behind Milley’s visit.
The Syrian government condemned Milley’s visit, with the Foregin Ministry calling it “illegal” and a “flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity” of the country’s territory.