Army Gen. Mark A. Milley is in Brussels to meet with NATO counterparts and to check progress in the worldwide effort against terror groups.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will participate in the alliance's Military Committee meeting — the first meeting at this level since December's NATO summit in London.
The Military Committee meets three times a year and consists of the chiefs of defense from all 29 NATO nations. A second meeting of framework nations includes partner nations such as Australia, New Zealand and others, Milley said.
"In this particular one, we're going to talk a little bit about the future in Iraq, in light of recent events," Milley told reporters traveling with him.
Right now, the NATO training mission in Iraq is suspended in the aftermath of the killing of Quds Force leader Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The chiefs will also talk about the mission in Afghanistan and about violent extremist organizations all over the world.
The military leaders will also discuss operations in the Trans-Sahel region of Africa. "The French have a lead on that, so they're going to talk about that," the chairman said. "We'll coordinate our activities and our resources and our positioning of forces in our tasks and purposes."
"So, the general thought or theme or idea is that the assets and the commitments the resources that the United States puts into Central Command [area of operations] or the [Africa Command] area etc., could be reduced," he said, "and then shifted either to increase readiness of the force in the continental U.S. or shifted into Indo-Pacom."
The U.S. process continues, and officials are developing options for Esper to consider. "We're developing those options in coordination with our allies and partners in the affected [areas of operations]," the general said. The military officials will bring their recommendations to their national leaders, he added.
The meetings show the strong military-to-military ties that bind the alliance, Milley said. "The other part of [the meetings] is relationships, building strong military-to-military relationships at the senior level, and these become critically important," the chairman told reporters.
When a crisis happens, these military leaders need to be able to communicate with counterparts and have a common understanding of the threats, he noted. "For example, in … the Syria crisis, or the Baghdad raid or the Soleimani thing, I speak to these guys all the time," Milley said.
"And I talked to a wide variety of allies and friends, and I even talked to people that might not be considered allies and friends."
Policy is up to the political leaders of the nations, the general said. "I can just say what our current policy is, and what our current plans are," he added, "and my current guidance from the secretary of defense and the president is that we will stay in Iraq."
On Iraq, he said, President Donald J. Trump spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the aftermath of the Soleimeni strike about increasing the NATO commitment. Milley said he will discuss what other nations can do in Iraq and more broadly in the Middle East.
"Our military-to-military relationships are critical and stable and good," the general said. "It's important that the military … have communications, because we oftentimes can clarify. We're all reporting to our national leadership, and we want to be able to make sure that we have a common operating picture and we understand the situation as best we can."