Top US General Makes Rare Visit To Syria, Reaffirms Occupation
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley made a rare, unannounced visit to Syria on Saturday, which was his first trip there as America's top general. The purpose was to reaffirm the US troop presence and mission there even as the public has by and large grown weary of foreign military entanglements.
An official estimate of some 900 American troops remain in the northeast portion of the country, which is Syria's oil and gas rich region which before the war supplied the rest of the country. Also the US has troops at Tanf base on the Iraq-Syria border. Milley was asked by reporters if the Pentagon's presence in Syria was worth the risk. He responded: "If you think that that’s important, then the answer is 'Yes,'" according Reuters.
"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," he added. For years US special forces have advised and assisted the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). They maintain control of the major oil fields.
While the US has long sought to portray the US presence as part of a counter-terror and counter-ISIS mission, when President Trump was in office he admitted it was about "securing the oil". Ultimately, the US is actively cutting off Damascus from its own badly needed natural resources on top of a sanctions policy aimed at strangling Assad's Syria. The Pentagon also sees the occupation as about countering Iran, by keeping up pressure on Iran's ally Damascus.
Naturally, Damascus was outraged at Gen. Milley's entering sovereign Syrian territory (occupied), with a foreign ministry statement calling it a "flagrant violation of Syria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and unity."
According to a regional publication:
A source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates said, "Syria strongly condemns the illegal visit of the US Chief of Staff to an illegal US military base in northeastern Syria, and affirms that it is a flagrant violation of the sovereignty, the sanctity of its lands and unity," according to RT.
"Syria calls on the US administration to immediately stop its systematic and continuous violations of international law and stop its support for separatist armed militias … and Syria affirms that these US practices will not deviate it from its approach to combating terrorism and preserving its sovereignty, security, and stability," the source added.
Mark Milley is in Syria, where war has never been declared, without the invitation of the host government, to declare that the mission there must continue. pic.twitter.com/FJCcaO9tcg— Jordan Schachtel (@JordanSchachtel) March 5, 2023
Turkey has also long wanted to see American troops gone from the region, given they support Kurdish groups which Ankara views as 'terrorists'.
One likely reason for the weekend trip by Milley is to show the world the US won't let up pressure on Assad in the wake of the devastating earthquake which resulted in over 50,000 deaths and billions of dollars in damage across both Turkey and Syria. This as the past weeks have seen Arab capitals send representatives to Damascus, while issuing messages of support to Assad and providing humanitarian aid to Syria. Washington is still trying to dissuade the Arab world from re-embracing the Assad government, however.