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Chairman Aims to Reassure Allies in Middle East

Nov. 25, 2019 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

Assure and deter is the message the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is delivering during a trip to the Middle East.

Army Gen. Mark Milley is meeting with national and military leaders to assure allies and partners in the region and deter Iran from malign behavior.

Two military leaders greet each other.
Officials Meet
Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is hosted by his Jordanian counterpart Air Force Lt. Gen. Yousef al-Hunaiti, for an honors arrival ceremony in Amman, Jordan, Nov. 24, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro
VIRIN: 191124-D-PB383-027A

Milley is carrying an important message to U.S. allies and service members on a whirlwind trip around the world.

"I think that's an important message to always remind people that the United States of America is a global power, and we remain committed to our responsibilities throughout different regions," Milley said.

Last week, the chairman visited the Indo-Pacific region, meeting with Japanese and South Korean leaders. 

Yesterday, he visited his Israeli counterpart in Tel Aviv before traveling to Jordan. Now, he is heading to Bahrain to meet military leaders and visit with U.S. service members based in the strategic Persian Gulf nation. 

Later this month, he will visit European allies.

He also getting into specifics with his counterparts, building the military-to-military relationship that he has said is important to interoperability and cooperation. 

"Each country is unique," he said. "So, I talked about all the various issues, you know, whether it's training and interoperability or whether it's broader contingency planning and national security decision-making within the region."

A group of military officers sit around a large table.
Officers Meeting
Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets with Israeli Army Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, chief of the Israeli General Staff, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Nov. 24, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro
VIRIN: 191124-D-PB383-018A

He is also talking to allies about Iran and the malign activities they sponsor throughout the region. 

"They're the world's number one sponsor of terrorism. They have conducted a wide variety of support to terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East region, and that's widely known," Milley said. 

Deterring Iran from further hostile acts is on the minds of U.S. allies in the Middle East, the chairman said. But countering Iran is tough because they can lash out overtly, nation versus nation, or covertly, via cyber attacks or attacks by Iranian-sponsored or -funded terror groups.

But Milley said the first step is getting Iran back to the negotiating table. The U.S. military mission is subordinate to, and in support of, diplomatic efforts that are ongoing by the U.S. government and deter any sort of external aggression by Iran against U.S. national security interests, Milley said. 

As a means of deterring Iran, Milley said the U.S. has sent forces with defensive capabilities to Saudi Arabia and beefed up its overall presence in the Persian Gulf in response to Iranian attacks.

Two military leaders greet each other.
Chairman Chat
Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is hosted by Israeli Army Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, the Israeli General Staff chief, at The Kirya in Tel Aviv, Israel, Nov. 24, 2019.
Photo By: Army Sgt. 1st Class Chuck Burden
VIRIN: 191124-D-HD608-017C

"If your opponent knows that you have capability … and you have a demonstrated will to use it, and [the adversary] clearly and unambiguously understands that, then the probability is that deterrence will obtain," Milley said. 

Milley said he doesn't want to speculate on what Iran could do, because no one can predict the future with any degree of certainty. "All we can do is deal in degrees of probability. And I think there is a possibility, for sure, that … Iran is aggressive in the region against their neighboring states. … Will they continue to do that in the future? I don't know, I would like to say no, but it's certainly possible they will," he said.

Milley also answered a question about the firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer. He said Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper made the decision for good reasons, and the decision is a matter for civilian leaders. Milley added that he supports Esper's decision. 

"In the broader issue of processes, etc., the secretary of defense, the president of the United States are all part of the process, and they made a decision," he said. "As far as I am concerned now, the case is closed, and it is time to move on and address the national security of the United States."