Michael Patrick Mulroy

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Michael Patrick Mulroy
Michael P. Mulroy.jpg
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
Assumed office
October 17, 2017
Preceded byAndrew Exum
Personal details
Political partyIndependent[1]
Spouse(s)Mary Beth Mulroy
Alma materAugusta University
Samford University
Military service
Allegiance United States of America
Branch/service United States Marine Corps
UnitSpecial Activities Center
Battles/warsAfghanistan War
Iraq War

Michael "Mick" Patrick Mulroy is the United States' Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for the Middle East previously under Secretary James N. Mattis and currently under Secretary Mark T. Esper. He was appointed by Secretary Mattis and sworn in on October 17, 2017. [3][4] The DASD for the Middle East is part of the Senior Executive Service, [5] is responsible for Department of Defense (DoD) policy and for representing the DoD in the interagency policy process for Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. [6][7] Mulroy is the co-maker of a documentary about a child soldier in the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). [8] He is also a retired Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Paramilitary Operations Officer (PMOO) and United States Marine. [9]

DASD service[edit]

Foreign Policy reported that Mulroy accepted the position in 2017 because then Defense Secretary James Mattis was looking for “nonpartisan and apolitical individuals" who spent time in conflict areas to fill that office. [10] They continued that "Mulroy, who spent most of his career as a CIA paramilitary operations officer in conflict zones, would depart the department on December 1, 2019, as he had always planned to stay for two years and then move to Montana to work on the consulting group he co-founded, the Lobo Institute." [11]

In January 2018, Secretary Mattis released the National Defense Strategy (United States) (NDS) which places the order of priorities for the DoD as China, Russia, North Korea, Iran and counter-terrorism. [12] As DASD for the Middle East, Mulroy is responsible for the implementation of the NDS (and its Irregular Warfare annex) in that region. This includes shaping the future of the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and Yemen with a focus on the near peer competitors of China and Russia and the efforts to stem the malign activities of Iran. [13][14]


In August of 2019, Secretary Esper stated that China was the DoD’s number one priority saying, "They are clearly professionalizing and expanding the capacity and capabilities of the military in order to push the United States out of the theater." [15] The DoD has also warned that China’s efforts to gain influence in the Middle East could undermine defence co-operation between the U.S. and regional allies. Mulroy said that China had a “desire to erode US military advantages” and that they are using their investments in the Middle East for “economic leverage and coercion” as well as “intellectual property theft and acquisition." [16][17] “The United States remains committed to improving the capacity of its partners to fight terrorism, deter regional destabilizers and promote stability in the Middle East, “but – as seen in the department’s decision to cancel Turkey’s F-35 programme – we are also prepared to make hard decisions to protect US technology.” [18]


In his first meeting with a Middle East nation as Secretary, Mark Esper met with Egypt's Minister of Defense Mohammad Zaki and asked about their use of counterinsurgency tactics in the Sinai Peninsula. At that meeting Mulroy and Zaki also spoke extensively about the importance of the population centric approach to counterinsurgency even if it takes longer to be successful. Mulroy said he saw evidence of this approach during his December 2018 visit to the Sinai Peninsula, where he spoke to both senior and junior military leaders. [19] He also highlighted that he observed economic development projects, including a desalination plant. Al-Monitor confirmed that the northern Sinai Peninsula is experiencing “unprecedented development projects,” including plans for new housing and an industrial zone. [20] Mulroy also explained that the Irregular Warfare Annex to the NDS calls on the DoD to use foreign internal defense principles, advise and assist tactics, and influence operations. [21]


In April 2019, the U.S. made the unprecedented decision to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization under the U.S. State Department's maximum pressure campaign. [22] This designation and the decision to withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action were done over the opposition of the DoD. [23][24][25] Mulroy stated that this designation did not grant any additional authorities to the DoD and that they were not seeking any.[26] The DoD also does not believe the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists can be applied to a potential conflict with Iran. [27][28]

At the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Mulroy stated that Iran posed five distinct threats. The first was the potential for obtaining a nuclear weapon. The second was maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab, because a substantial portion of energy trade and commercial goods go through those areas. The third was their support to proxies and terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, some of the Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq and the safe-harboring of senior al-Qaeda leaders in Iran. The fourth was Iranian ballistic missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen for use against Saudi Arabia and in Syria with Hezbollah to use against Israel. Cyber was the fifth threat and a growing concern. [26][29][30]

After Mulroy's statement to CNAS, most of these threats materialized into the five actions described above. Many experts believe the U.S. State Department's maximum pressure campaign is the main cause for the increase in Iran's malign activities and the increase in their desire to acquire a nuclear weapon. [31][32] As a result of the attacks by the IRGC on international shipping in the Gulf of Oman in the summer of 2019, [33][34] the U.S. started the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC). Mulroy stated that the purpose of the IMSC is to increase overall surveillance and security in the "key waterways in the Middle East." [35][36] These waterways include the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, and the Gulf of Oman. As of the end of August 2019, the IMSC included the U.S., the U.K., Australia and Bahrain. There has been no Iranian attacks on international shipping since the IMSC began. [37]


Mulroy told ABC News that the relationship with the DoD and the Iraqi Army was among the DoD's most compelling strategic interests in the Middle East. As evidence, he explained that the U.S. helped train and equip 28 Iraqi brigades to maintain their readiness and defend their country against ISIS, a common enemy. [38] He further said, "Five years ago, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) controlled approximately 55,000 square kilometers and more than 4 million people in Iraq lived under their oppressive rule, now they do not." The Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve directly supported these efforts. [39][40]

The Iraqi government will continue fighting the remnants of ISIS in its territory and it will continue to rely on American and coalition support with the long-term goal to fully eliminate it. "The priority is to empower Iraq's professional and capable security forces to protect its sovereignty and to prevent an ISIS resurgence," Mulroy said. "The more capable Iraq's security institutions, the more resilient Iraq will be in the face of its enemies.[38] U.S. forces are present at the express invitation of the government of Iraq and anchored in the Strategic Framework Agreement signed by our two countries more than 10 years ago (in 2008)." [39][41]

Mulroy highlighted during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) hearing that U.S. forces have gone from over 150,000 in 2008 at an expense of 150 billion U.S. dollars a year to just over 5,000 in 2019 at an expense of 15 billion U.S. dollars a year. He believed resulted from the hard work the U.S. military and the Iraqi military did over the years to make the Iraqis more independent. [42] However, he said that Iran’s “cynical interference” in supporting non-compliant militias in Iraq, more loyal to Tehran than Baghdad, undermined the Iraqi prime minister’s authority, preyed on ordinary Iraqis by criminal activity and destabilized the fragile communities recently liberated from ISIS. [43] In an interview with Kurdistan 24, he highlighted that the “US will continue to sustain our robust train, equip, advise, and assist program with the Peshmerga in order to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS." [44]


Mulroy told Foreign Policy that Russia has been bolstering its position in the Middle East, “Russia views Syria as the center of its approach to the broader Middle East as Syria presents Russia with many opportunities, including re-establishing great power status in the region, demonstrating and improving its military capabilities.“ [45] He added that part of this approach has led to Russia establishing a naval facility in the Syrian city of Tartus and a separate coastal air base. [46]

In October of 2018, Turkey and Russia signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Idlib, the last rebel-held territory in Syria. The agreement was supposed to provide for a ceasefire and protect the three million people now living in the province. However, Syria and Russia have repeatedly broken the ceasefire causing a humanitarian catastrophe, as desperate civilians, fleeing the fighting, seek refuge. Russia believes they thrive in chaos, therefore they create it. [47] Mulroy has also warned against the potential of mass and collateral damage in a possible Russian-led siege against Idlib, similar to what occurred in Aleppo three years ago. [48]

Mulroy went on to say that Russia is courting traditional U.S. partners in the region, such as Egypt, Israel, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Iraq, but only for their own benefit in a very transactional manner. For the U.S., “our partners are the most important asset we have,” and we are “committed to being a steady partner,” while providing “a positive backbone architecture for regional security.” [49]


In April 2019, Mulroy stated that an area the size of West Virginia had been liberated from ISIS and the physical caliphate was defeated, but ISIS was not destroyed and there were over 10,000 completely unrepentant fighters left in Syria. [50] He believed the U.S. should be in Syria for the "long haul" with a "very capable partner" in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). [51][52][53][54] He also said that the U.S. partnership with the SDF was a model to follow, like the partnerships with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban in 2001 and with the Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq in 2003 as the northern front against Saddam Hussein [26] and that we must support local partners to stabilize the areas that have been liberated from ISIS's control and prevent their return.[39]

At a hearing before the SFRC, he said the SDF spends quite a bit of time, effort and resources taking care of everybody else's problems by holding more than 2,000 foreign terrorist fighters from over 50 countries and the U.S. is pushing those countries to take back their citizens, "it is their responsibility." [55][56] He continued that the families of ISIS fighters that have moved into internally displaced person (IDP) camps will be the next generation of ISIS or "ISIS 2.0" if the international community does not develop a plan to rehabilitate and provide them with a future. [57]

In June 2019, Mulroy stated that the U.S. “will respond quickly and appropriately” if the Bashar al-Assad regime uses chemical weapons again. He added that both Russia and the Syrian regime has shown no concern for the suffering of the Syrian people together created one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in history. He called on all sides to abide by their agreements to avoid large scale military operations and to allow "unfettered access" to deliver humanitarian aid to those in need. [58][59][60]

Mulroy, as well as other senior DoD officials, expressed public support for the SDF after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a threat to launch a unilateral offensive into the Kurdish area of northeastern Syria if the so-called "Safe Zone" was not established. [61] Turkey was pressing to control — in coordination with the U.S. — a 19-25-mile (30-40-kilometer) zone within civil war-ravaged Syria, running east of the Euphrates all the way to the border with Iraq. [62] This safe zone was agreed to by Turkey and the U.S. with few public details, [63] but many officials in the U.S. are skeptical that Turkey will honor it's commitments. [64]


In May 2019, the Senate fell short of the votes needed to override the President's veto of legislation to end U.S. support for the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen. Mulroy stated that support was limited to side-by-side coaching to mitigate civilian casualties and if the measure passed it would do nothing to help the people of Yemen and may only increase civilian deaths from the air campaign.[65] He supported the United Nations' peace talks led by Special Envoy Martin Griffiths to end the war and he pushed for the international community to come together and chart "a comprehensive way ahead for Yemen." Mulroy, who made a visit to Aden, Yemen to meet with officials from the Yemeni government prior to vote, also highlighted the need for "their voices to be heard." [66][67][68]

In 2019, the leader of ISIS in Yemen, Abu Osama al-Muhajir, was captured by the UAE and their Yemen partner forces supported by U.S. military special operations forces during an early morning raid on June 3 in the eastern province of al-Mahra. [69] The operation included Yemeni security forces and recovered a number of weapons, ammunition, computers, money in different currencies and communications equipment. [70]

CIA service[edit]

Mulroy is a retired PMOO from the Special Activities Center (formerly Special Activities Division) of the CIA. PMOOs are a hybrid of a clandestine intelligence officer and a military special operator and they belong to the Special Operations Group (SOG) within SAC. [71] They are recruited primarily from the United States Special Operations Command [72] and are a majority of the recipients of the rare CIA valor awards of the Distinguished Intelligence Cross and the Intelligence Star. [73]

While at the CIA, he served as a Chief of a Department in Special Activities Center (SAC), a Chief of Station, a Chief of an Expeditionary Team, a Chief of Base, a Deputy Chief of a Branch in Special Activities Division (SAD) and a PMOO in a Branch in SAD. [3] His CIA awards include the Intelligence Star, the Intelligence Commendation Medal, the Career Intelligence Medal and the National Intelligence Exceptional Achievement Medal, among others. [6] He is also a recipient of the State Department's Superior Honor Award. [6]

Military service[edit]

Mulroy is also a retired U.S. Marine and served as both a commissioned officer and enlisted Marine on both active duty and in the reserves. He served as an Armored Crewman, a Judge Advocate and an Infantry Officer. [6] His military awards include the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Iraq Campaign Medal, among others. His son is also a U.S. Marine serving in Force Reconnaissance. [2][74]


Mulroy is a co-maker (along with U.S. Navy SEAL Eric Oehlerich) of the documentary My Star in the Sky, which in the Acholi language is Lakalatwe. This documentary depicts a story about survival, friendship and love between two child soldiers, Anthony and Florence Opoka. Both were abducted by the LRA, an insurgent group against the government of Uganda. Anthony injured six times including being left for dead. He recovered and was made Joseph Kony's radio operator. They eventually escaped, married and started a family. [8][75]

This documentary has been screened at Yale University's Jackson Institute for Global Affairs,[8] the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank for international affairs [76] and the Enough Project, a non-profit group to end crimes against humanity. [77]


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