The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff doesn’t see a clear end to the American presence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria — nations facing down the threat of the Islamic State and other dangerous groups.
Gen. Mark Milley on Sunday said the mission to ensure Afghanistan isn’t a terrorist haven is “not yet complete.” That mission won’t be complete until the country’s government and security forces are able to sustain their own internal security, he added.
“That effort is ongoing. It's been ongoing for 18 consecutive years,” Milley told host Martha Raddatz of ABC’s “This Week” in his first interview since assuming his new post. “I suspect it will be ongoing into the future for several more years.”
Milley said it’s in the national interest to also be in Iraq and Syria to prevent the resurgence of groups like ISIS: “We will be there for a significant amount of time.”
Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump announced the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in the midst of escalating frustration over his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria. The withdrawal allowed Turkey to invade the region and attack U.S.-allied Kurds, who have been instrumental in fighting ISIS.
Milley said Sunday that around 500 to 600 troops remain in the area and acknowledged the possibility of an ISIS reemergence without maintaining pressure. Baghdadi’s death disrupted the organization, he said, but the U.S. is closely monitoring his replacement.
The general said: “There are still ISIS fighters in the region and unless pressure is maintained ... there's a very real possibility that conditions could be set for a reemergence of ISIS.
“The footprint will be small, but the objective will remain the same: the enduring defeat of ISIS,” he said.
Milley also said Iran remains a threat. “Iran’s been a challenge for the United States, you know, since the revolution in 1979,“ he told Raddatz, saying he hopes diplomatic efforts will bear fruit.
The chairman would not discuss the impeachment inquiry, calling it inappropriate to comment on active investigations. Milley also declined to discuss Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who told Congress that Trump undermined national security in asking Ukraine to investigate political rivals.
But Milley did address Veterans Day and the honor of serving his country — something he thought he’d do for four years “and then get out, but here I am 40 years later.”
“The freedoms we have, Martha, are not free. They're paid for in the blood of all those soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have been fighting for it for 2½ centuries,” Milley said.