- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Pentagon’s primary goal in eastern Syria remains a counter-ISIS mission, the U.S.’ top uniformed military officer said Wednesday, as clashes along the border between Turkey and Syria rage on.

In an appearance before the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “There’s no intent nor plans to reengage in the Syria-Turkish war nor put troops back on the Syrian-Turkish border,” four months after President Trump pulled all American troops from the border.

The move cleared the way for a Turkish military offensive that Ankara said was designed to wipe out terrorist forces.

The four-star reiterated that while the tangible components of the Islamic State — otherwise known as ISIS — have been destroyed, the organization remains operational.

“We know that ISIS, the caliphate, the physical entity, has been eliminated, but we also know that ISIS as an organization has not yet been destroyed,” he said.

The U.S. still has 650-750 troops in eastern Syria working with a local group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to continue the fight against the remnants of ISIS.

“They have broken down into small groups, and they are continuing to conduct insurgency and terrorist operations in a very desegregated way, but they are no longer the threat they were a year ago,” he said.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, who testified alongside Gen. Milley, explained there has not been a discussion about “reengaging in a civil war” in the region.

Mr. Esper said his department believes “the best path forward is through the [United Nations] process that is underway and that needs to be pursued vigorously.”

“Our current mission … is to ensure the continuing defeat of ISIS in that eastern portion of Syria working alongside our SDF partners that happens on a daily basis,” he continued and explained it is not likely the U.S. will deploy troops to the embattled border.

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