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Top US general visits Syria for first time as chairman of the joint chiefs, meets US forces

By Oren Liebermann, CNN

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley visited Syria on Saturday, according to a statement from his office, marking his first visit to the country as the top US general.

Milley met with US troops in northeast Syria, who are there as part of the campaign to defeat ISIS, and inspected force protection measures, his spokesman Col. Dave Butler said.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry condemned what it called Miley’s “illegal” visit to the US military base, saying it was a “flagrant violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to state news agency SANA.

Two weeks before Milley’s visit, US and coalition forces at Green Village in Syria came under rocket attack, according to US Central Command. Two rockets landed near the base, CENTCOM said. No US or coalition troops were injured, and there was no damage to the base.

Just two days earlier, four US troops and one working dog were injured in a helicopter raid against a senior ISIS leader in northeast Syria. The raid killed Hamza al-Homsi, CENTCOM said. The troops were injured in an “explosion on target,” the command said, though it was unclear if it was a suicide vest, grenade or other explosive that injured the troops.

The US maintains approximately 900 troops in Syria. While in the country, Milley also reviewed the ongoing repatriation efforts from the al-Hol refugee camp, which houses more than 60,000 displaced persons, including 25,000 children.

The repatriation efforts have been a particular focus of Gen. Erik Kurilla, the commander of US Central Command, who has visited the camp three times since taking over on April 1, 2022. Kurilla’s most recent visit was in mid-November, when he warned that the children in the camp are “prime targets for ISIS radicalization.”

In February, US forces conducted 15 partnered operations with local forces, including the Kurdish Syrian Defense Forces, as well as two US-only operations, according to CENTCOM. The operations led to the deaths of five ISIS operatives and the detention of 11 others, the command said.

This story has been updated with additional reaction.

CNN’s Hira Humayun contributed to this report.

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