A US Army Gen. Mark Milley told the United States lawmakers at a confirmation hearing Thursday that it would be a “strategic mistake” to prematurely pull American troops out of Afghanistan and that the international order is facing its greatest challenges since the fall of the Soviet Union.
US President Trump has campaigned on ending wars abroad and bringing American troops home and has made no secret about wanting to draw down the number of US forces in Afghanistan.
Gen. Milley, the current Army chief of staff, said the US is “living in a period of great-power competition with a very complex and dynamic security environment. [International order is] currently under the most stress since the Cold War.”
According to a report by The Washington Times, Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe also announced Thursday plans for an expedited confirmation hearing for Mark T. Esper, acting defense secretary whom President Trump has nominated for the permanent Pentagon post.
US Lawmakers are anxious to move the nomination along, as the Pentagon has not had a permanent secretary since James Mattis resigned more than six months ago.
If confirmed, he will replace Gen. Joseph Dunford who has held the chairman position since 2015 when the four-star Marine Corps general’s second term ends on October 1.
His selection by US president was something of a surprise, as Mr. Mattis was said to favor another candidate.
Gen. Milley, who was appointed to the top Army job by President Obama in 2015, has made modernization of the Army a top priority, The Washington Times reported. He has held command assignments with the 82nd Airborne Division, 101st Airborne Division, 5th Special Forces Group and III Corps and served three combat command tours in Iraq.
The 61-year-old Massachusetts native said the US has been “very successful” in Syria in destroying the Islamic State caliphate but added that a modest number of troops should remain in Syria and Iraq “in order to maintain stability.”
Committee members pressed Gen. Milley on hot-button issues including ongoing tensions with Iran, the high number of vacancies at the Pentagon, sexual misconduct in the armed forces, and the threat posed by rivals such as China and Russia.
The general told the committee he believes “China is the main challenge to US national security over the next 50 to 100 years.” He characterized China not as an enemy of the US but rather an adversary and a competitor.