Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley warned that “there are still ISIS fighters in the region” where the terror group once boasted a physical caliphate, “and unless pressure is maintained, unless attention is maintained on that group, then there’s a very real possibility that conditions could be set for a reemergence of ISIS.”
Milley told ABC News in an interview aired Sunday that “for sure” fewer than a thousand U.S. troops will remain in Syria as a complement to the Syrian Democratic Forces, “maybe 600.”
“The footprint will be small, but the objective will remain the same, the enduring defeat of ISIS,” he said.
The chairman said the U.S. “has considerable information” on new ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. Since Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death, ISIS provinces from Africa to Southeast Asia have released statements or images pledging allegiance to the little-known replacement.
“We’ll see in the days ahead, in the weeks ahead, the months ahead if he’s able to piece together his organization or not,” Milley said. “We’ll pay close attention to him and, where opportunities arise, we’ll go after him as well.”
Asked about the length of U.S. presence in Afghanistan, the general said that “we have to go back to the original reason why we are in Afghanistan to begin with, which is 9/11.”
“So, we went there to order to make sure that Afghanistan never again would be a haven, a safe haven for terrorists that would attack the United States. That mission is not yet complete,” Milley said. “In order for that mission to be successful, the government of Afghanistan, the Afghan security forces, are going to have to be able to sustain their own internal security to prevent terrorists from using their territory to attack other countries, especially the United States.”
“That effort is ongoing. It’s been ongoing for 18 consecutive years. I suspect it will be ongoing into the future for several more years.”
Asked whether that also meant the U.S. would stay that long in Iraq, Syria, or wherever the Islamic State is, the chairman noted that “it’s not just the Islamic State; it’s other groups.”
“But I think that we will be there for a significant amount of time, because it’s in our national interest to be there to help out,” he added.
Reflecting on Veterans Day, Milley stressed that “about 242 soldiers that have been killed under my command in one way or another since 9/11.”
“And I think of them a lot, at all kinds of times of the day, and at 2:00 in the morning and your eyes pop open and you start thinking about what those young men and women have done for this country,” he said.