A surprise visit by the top military official of the United States to an army base in the Kurdish-controlled northeast was denounced as “illegal” by Syria’s foreign ministry on Sunday, according to state media.
General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with US troops stationed in Syria’s war-torn regions that are under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on Saturday (SDF).
In order to combat the remaining members of the Islamic State group, about 900 US soldiers are stationed in various bases and posts throughout northeastern Syria.
“Syria strongly condemns the illegal visit of the American chairman of the chiefs of staff to an illegal American military base in northeast Syria,” a foreign ministry official was quoted as saying by the official news agency SANA.
The official called on “the US administration to immediately cease its systematic and ongoing violation of international law and support for separatist armed groups,” adding that Milley’s visit was “a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity” of Syrian territory.
The administration of President Bashar al-Assad considers the stationing of US troops in SDF-held territory to be “occupation” and charges the Kurdish forces with “separatist tendencies” in response.
Kurdish officials claim they only want to maintain their unrecognized self-rule and deny having any separatist intentions.
The US general “visited northeast Syria Saturday… to meet with commanders and troops,” according to Milley’s spokesman Dave Butler to AFP.
After assuming the chairmanship in 2019, it was Milley’s first trip to Syria. As the head of the army, he had previously visited the nation, the spokesman said.
Butler used another acronym for the IS jihadists to say that Milley “received updates on the counter-ISIS mission” during the visit.
Additionally, the general “inspected force protection measures and asserted repatriation efforts for the Al-Hol refugee camp,” which is home to over 50,000 people, including relatives of alleged foreign IS militants whose home countries have not received them.
The SDF, led by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, are supported by the US-led coalition battling IS (YPG).
The SDF has cracked down on IS remnants, whose members continue to carry out deadly attacks in Syria, after the jihadists lost their last territory to SDF-led forces in 2019.
In numerous operations, US forces have killed or detained members of the IS, including the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019.
The US military reported on February 19 that SDF-affiliated troops had captured an IS provincial official.
According to the US military’s Central Command, the raid came a day after four US soldiers were hurt while participating in another raid to kill a senior IS group leader in northeastern Syria.