Despite progress against the Islamic State in Syria, US forces are not expected to withdraw from the country any time soon, according to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford.
During a 6 December Washington Post podcast, Gen Dunford fielded questions about US military operations around the globe including the US special forces' presence in Syria. While the coalition forces have been battling the Islamic State fighters since 2015, there is still a long road ahead for stabilisation efforts.
"I'm not talking about reconstruction," the four-star Marine Corps general said. "I'm talking about basic water, sewerage, power, jobs, [and] those kinds of things that need to be done in order for us to say that the area has been stabilised."
To provide stability, the Pentagon estimates that between 35,000 and 40,000 local forces will have to be trained and equipped. To date, only about 20% of that goal has been met, though the trained are largely combat troops made up of Arab and Kurdish forces that have "done the majority of the fighting in Syria against [the Islamic State]," Dunford said.
"We still have a long way to go and so I'd be reluctant to give a fixed time," he added, noting that the military campaign is also in place to support diplomatic efforts to stop the Syrian civil war.
Although Dunford did not directly address Iran's influence in Syria, Marine Corps Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie did so on 4 December, when he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing to become the next commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM).
In his written response to lawmakers' questions, Lt Gen McKenzie said that Tehran's use of ballistic missiles to "strike [the Islamic State] in Syria and Kurdish targets in Iraq" is having a negative effect on US-collation efforts.
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