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On Saturday, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made an unannounced visit to Syria. The purpose of Milley's visit was to reaffirm the presence of U.S. forces there, despite much of the American public lamenting the government's continued foreign military support.
The U.S. military has roughly 900 troops stationed in northeast Syria, which is the country's rich oil and gas region. U.S. forces are also stationed on the Iraq-Syria border at Tanf base.
When asked by reporters if he thought the Pentagon's presence in Syria was worth the risk, Milley responded, "If you think that's important, then the answer is 'Yes.'"
"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," Milley added. For several years, U.S. special forces have advised and assisted the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which maintains control of the country's major oil fields.
While the U.S. government has previously tried to portray the United States' continued presence in Syria as related to counter-terror and counter-ISIS measures, former President Trump admitted that the U.S. presence was about "securing the oil." The U.S. also views its continued presence in Syria as a way of countering Iran by continuously pressuring Iran's ally Damascus.
Damascus quickly issued a foreign ministry statement upon Milley's arrival calling the visit a "flagrant violation of Syria's sovereignty, territorial integrity, and unity."
According to a source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and expatriates, "Syria strongly condemns the illegal visit of the U.S. Chief of Staff to an illegal U.S. military base in northeastern Syria, and affirms that it is a flagrant violation of the sovereignty, the sanctity of its lands and unity."
"Syria calls on the U.S. 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 U.S. practices will not deviate it from its approach to combating terrorism and preserving its sovereignty, security, and stability," the source concluded.
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Syria is not the only country to be displeased with Milley's surprise visit. Turkey has also wanted U.S. forces to leave the region as they support Kurdish groups, which Turkey views as 'terrorists.'
It is also believed that Milley's visit to Syria was to show that the U.S. will not ease pressure on Assad following the massive earthquake that devastated Syria and Turkey and caused more than 50,000 deaths and billions of dollars worth of damage.
While many Arab countries have sent representatives to Damascus and issued supportive statements to Assad and provided humanitarian aid to Syria, the U.S. is continuing to try and dissuade Arab leaders from re-embracing the Asad government in the aftermath of the recent earthquake and subsequent humanitarian crisis.