Michael Patrick Mulroy

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Michael "Mick" Mulroy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East

Michael "Mick" Patrick Mulroy is the former United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for the Middle East serving under Secretary James N. Mattis and Secretary Mark T. Esper. He was appointed in October 2017 and served until December 2019. He was responsible for representing the United States Department of Defense (DoD) for defense policy and policy in the interagency on the Middle East.[1][2][3][4] He is also a retired CIA Paramilitary Operations Officer and a United States Marine.[5]

After leaving the Pentagon, he co-founded the Lobo Institute, where he led the development of a documentary on a child soldier in the Lord's Resistance Army called My Star in the Sky.[6][7][8] He also began serving on the board of the nonprofit Grassroots Reconciliation Group that works to rehabilitate former child soldiers, became a Special Advisor to the United Nations,[9] a Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute,[10] and a ABC News National Security Analyst.[11][12][13]

DASD service

Official DoD Photo

The DASD for the Middle East is a member of the Senior Executive Service in the office of the Secretary of Defense.[14] This individual is responsible for DoD policy and for representing the DoD in the interagency for the countries of Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.[3][4]

Foreign Policy, and other media, reported that Mulroy accepted the position because then-Defense Secretary Mattis was looking for a “nonpartisan and apolitical individual" who spent a lot of time in conflict areas to fill that office.[15][16][17] 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 group he co-founded, the Lobo Institute."[15] Mulroy was awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service for his efforts. The citation focuses on his efforts to build a comprehensive plan for Yemen, for developing a DoD policy board for Iran, and for assisting the White Helmets in Syria to escape before the Syrian government could capture them.[17][18] He gave credit to his policy team who were "involved in many of the major national security" issues of the last several years.[16][17]

National Defense Strategy

In January 2018, the DoD released the National Defense Strategy (United States) (NDS) which orders priorities for the DoD as China, Russia, North Korea, Iran and then counter-terrorism.[19] As DASD for the Middle East, Mulroy was responsible for the implementation of the NDS in that region, including 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 efforts to stem the malign activities of Iran.[20][21]

Irregular Warfare Annex

At a workshop in October 2019 which included David Kilcullen, Ben Connable and Christine Wormuth at RAND, Mulroy officially rolled out the Irregular Warfare Annex (IWA), saying it was a critical component of the 2018 NDS. He said that irregular warfare (IW) includes counter-insurgency (COIN), counter-terrorism (CT), unconventional warfare (UW), foreign internal defense (FID), sabotage and subversion, stabilization (warfare) and information operations (IO), among other areas. IW has been perceived largely as limited to the CT effort used to fight violent extremist organizations. Still, he said it should be applied to all competition areas, including the great powers of China and Russia and the rogue states of North Korea and Iran. Mulroy said that the U.S. must be prepared to respond with "aggressive, dynamic, and unorthodox approaches to IW" to be competitive across these priorities.[22]

He continued that DoD would incorporate IW into policies, strategies, plans, and processes across the joint force and not solely special operations. This would also include considering IW in force design, development, and human capital to proactively manage and determine the character, scope, and intensity of our competition in the IW environment, leading to competitive advantage and raising the cost to adversaries. He concluded that it is imperative to work by, with, and through allies and partners in these efforts to strengthen their commitment to common security objectives and increase their ability to defend their own sovereignty.[22]

Mulroy said that the deployment of conventional forces in response to Iran conducting clandestine operations against commercial shipping and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure under the cover of proxies did not have the deterrent effect expected.[23] Mulroy advocated for using IW to respond to Iran's activities and for developing a new strategy in line with the IWA that would economize our force to deny them strategic success.[23][24]


In August 2019, Secretary Esper stated that China was the DoD's number one priority and that "they are clearly professionalizing and expanding the capacity and capabilities of the military to push the United States out of the theater (of the Middle East)."[25] The DoD warned that China's efforts to gain influence in the Middle East could undermine defense cooperation between the U.S. and regional allies. Mulroy added that China had a “desire to erode US military advantages” using their investments for "economic leverage and coercion" and "intellectual property theft and acquisition."[26][27] He continued that the U.S. was committed to improving the capacity of its partners to fight terrorism, deter regional destabilizers and promote overall stability in the Middle East, but – as seen in the department's decision to cancel Turkey's F-35 program – should be prepared to make hard decisions to protect U.S. technology."[28]


During a meeting with Egypt's Defense Minister about COIN tactics in the Sinai Peninsula, Mulroy said he saw evidence of this approach during his December of 2018 visit to the Sinai Peninsula.[29] He also highlighted that he observed economic development projects. Al-Monitor confirmed that the northern Sinai Peninsula was experiencing “unprecedented development projects,” including plans for new housing and an industrial zone.[30] Mulroy also explained that the IWA to the NDS calls on the DoD to use FID principles, advise and assist tactics, and IO.[29]


In April 2019, the U.S. designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization under the U.S. State Department's "maximum pressure campaign".[31] This designation and the decision to withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action were done over the opposition of the DoD.[32][33][34] Mulroy said this designation did not grant DoD nor were they seeking any additional authorities to the DoD.[35] The DoD did not believe the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists could be applied to a potential conflict with Iran.[36][37]

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 attacks in the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab, in which a substantial portion of energy trade and commercial goods pass. The third was Iran's 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 sending their 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. After this statement, all of these threats materialized.[35][38][39]

Many believe the U.S. State Department's "maximum pressure campaign" is the main cause for the increase in Iran's malign activities and the desire to acquire a nuclear weapon.[40][41] As a result of the attacks by the IRGC on international shipping in the Gulf of Oman in the summer of 2019,[42][43] the U.S. started the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC). Mulroy stated that the purpose of the IMSC was to increase overall surveillance and security in the "key waterways in the Middle East."[44][45] These waterways include the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, and the Gulf of Oman. There have been no Iranian attacks on international shipping since the IMSC began.[46]

Mulroy initiated and directed the formation of the Iran Strategy Board (ISB) to create a forum to coordinate policy across the DoD and advocated for a "calibrated approach to Iran."[18] One of his stated accomplishments as DASD was preventing a war with Iran,[17] something others in the administration pushed for as they believed a conflict between the two countries was necessary to force a regime change in Iran.[47][48]

Killing of Soleimani

Qasem Soleimani

On 3 January 2020, a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad International Airport targeted and killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani of the IRGC Quds Force. When asked about possible responses by Iran, Mulroy said that the Quds Force had worldwide reached and could target American civilians. Mulroy, who advocated for the U.S. to utilize irregular warfare tactics, said this strike would increase the likelihood of a vote in Iraq's council of representatives to expel U.S. forces in their country, which did happen.[49] He continued that Soleimani “orchestrated” much of the Iraq insurgency that killed hundreds of U.S. servicemen and women, helped “design and execute” Bashar al-Assad’s campaign in Syria,  and provided support in Yemen “that made a humanitarian crisis even worse.”[49][50]

In an article in the Middle East Institute journal, Mulroy and Eric Oehlerich stated that the targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani was justified and long overdue because he was an enemy combatant who orchestrated a lethal campaign against U.S. military members, diplomats and intelligence officers in Iraq. They also made the argument that the U.S. should have started by targeting Soleimani's subordinates to disrupt their operations and that covert action authority should have been considered to provide some deniability and avoid the possibility of an all-out regional war between the U.S. and Iran.[51]


Mulroy told ABC News that the relationship with the DoD and the Iraqi Army was among the most compelling strategic interests in the Middle East. He explained that the U.S. helped train and equip 28 Iraqi brigades to maintain their readiness and defend their country against ISIS.[52] Continuing, "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 (CJTF-OIR) directly supported these efforts.[53][54]

The Iraqi government will continue fighting the remnants of ISIS, and it will need American and coalition support 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. The more capable Iraq's security institutions, the more resilient Iraq will be in the face of its enemies,” Mulroy said.[52] He continued that 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).[53][55]

Mulroy highlighted during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) hearing that U.S. forces had gone from over 150,000 in 2008 at the expense of 150 billion U.S. dollars a year to just over 5,000 in 2019 at the expense of 15 billion U.S. dollars a year. He believed this resulted from the work the U.S. and the Iraqi military did over the years to make the Iraqis more independent.[54] However, he said that Iran's “cynical interference” in supporting non-compliant militias in Iraq, more loyal to Tehran than Baghdad, undermined the Iraqi government's authority, preyed on ordinary Iraqis by criminal activity and destabilized the fragile communities recently liberated from ISIS.[56] In an interview with Kurdistan 24, he said that the U.S. would continue to support the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga to combat ISIS.[55]

On March 11, 2020, two American and one British service members were killed, and 12 others were wounded when eighteen 107-mm Katyusha rockets struck their base in Iraq known as Camp Taji. The Iranian proxy group Kata'ib Hezbollah (KH) was suspected of the attack which may have been retaliation from the strike that killed their leader and IRGC Commander Soleimani.[57] Mulroy told ABC News that if the Camp Taji attack was determined to be supported by Iran the president would likely be presented with several courses of action to respond and that it is incredibly provocative and could not have come at a "worst time as it risks escalation of a regional conflict at a time of an international health and economic crisis".[57] The U.S. responded to these attacks the next day with strikes on several KH facilities in Iraq.[58]


Mulroy told Foreign Policy that Russia was bolstering its position in the Middle East and viewed Syria as the center of its approach because it presents them with many opportunities, including re-establishing great power status in the region and improving its military capabilities.[55] He added that part of this approach has led to Russia establishing a naval facility at the Syrian port city of Tartus and a separate coastal airbase.[59]

In October 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 living in the province. However, Syria violated the ceasefire and caused a humanitarian catastrophe. Mulroy said that Russia believes they thrive in chaos. Therefore, they create it.[55] He also warned against the potential of extensive collateral damage in a possible Russian-led siege against Idlib, similar to what occurred in Aleppo three years ago.[59]

In an article in the Middle East Institute, Mulroy said there was an effort in the U.S. House of Representatives to provide authority and funding for the DoD to conduct partner force operations against Russia. This effort was under Section 1202 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but it was confined to the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) theatre and not authorized in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) theatre, which includes the Middle East. He explained that although the European theater is important, countering Russian expansion should not be limited by geography, and the U.S. needs to meet Russia in all areas with the authorities and resources to compete with them.[60]

On the issue of Russian Intelligence services conducted influence operations in the U.S., Mulroy stated in the Washington Post that, "Foreign intelligence services, especially the Russians, often use domestic unrest in the United States to their advantage by exaggerating that unrest through social media and influence operations. The operations often take advantage of legitimate protests, hijacking them by advocating destructive acts such as the burning and destruction of property that reduce Americans' confidence in their own government. If there is evidence that any other countries are doing this," he said, "there need to be direct and real consequences for them."[61]

In June 2020, the New York Times reported that a Russian intelligence agency called the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) was paying the Taliban to kill U.S. service members in Afghanistan.[62] Mulroy called the reports disturbing if true and said that "although we do not want a war with Russia there are some actions you can't accept." He continued that "if we have solid evidence that this is being done and our forces are being killed the gloves should be hitting the floor."[63][64]



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.[65] He believed the U.S. should be in Syria for the "long haul" with the "very capable partner" in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).[66][67][68][69] 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 Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq in 2003 as the northern front against Saddam Hussein.[35] He continued that the U.S. must support local partners to stabilize the areas that have been liberated from ISIS's control and prevent their return.[70]

Mulroy was "emphatic" in an interview with Defense One that the SDF deserved the credit for the victory against ISIS and for keeping the pressure on ISIS, so they do not return. Specifically, he said, “We shouldn’t just skim over it because it was an incredible feat that they (the SDF) did. Nobody in Washington did that. They did.”[17]

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 as "it is their responsibility."[55][71] 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.[54]

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Mulroy said the SDF bore most of the burden when it came to defeating a caliphate. He went on to say that the DoD could not carry out the NDS without partners like the SDF.[72] On the large IDP camp at al-Hawl, he explained that many of the children in the camps were only learning the beliefs of ISIS the entire time they are in that camp. If the international community does not come up with a way to rehabilitate them and reintegrate them into society, they are the next generation of ISIS.[73]

"We need to pick one. We need to fund it. And we need to do something." Mulroy said. "If we don't do it as an international community, not just the United States, it's a problem that our children will be dealing with," he continued.[70][74][75] He said that if we don't do that, we will be back there, for sure, doing this again "we owe it to the people that live there, who have borne unspeakable burdens, and we owe it to the men and women that are going to come after us at the State Department, at the Defense Department, that we don't just leave this undone."[76][77]

Syrian government

In June 2019, Mulroy stated that the U.S. “will respond quickly and appropriately” if the Syrian government uses chemical weapons again. He claimed that neither Russia and the Syrian government had shown concern for the suffering of the Syrian people and 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 allow "unfettered access" to deliver humanitarian aid to those in need.[78][79][80]

In July 2018, the White Helmets organization was evacuated out of southwest Syria through Israel and into Jordan because the Syrian government and their Russian allies were specifically targeting the group members for terrorist connections.[81] Mulroy was specifically cited for his efforts "to support the successful evacuation of 422 volunteers and family members of the White Helmets civil defense organization in Syria."[18]

Turkish incursion

In August 2019, 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, the so-called "Safe Zone" was not established.[82] Turkey was pressing to control — in coordination with the U.S. — a 19 to 25 mile (30 to 40-kilometer) zone within Syria, running east of the Euphrates all the way to the border with Iraq.[83] This zone was agreed to by Turkey and the U.S. with few public details,[84] but many officials in the DoD were skeptical that Turkey will honor it's commitments.[85]

President Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria in October 2019 was against the recommendations of top officials in DoD who have sought to keep a small troop presence in northeast Syria to continue operations against ISIS and act as a critical counterweight to Iran and Russia.[86] President Trump ignored their advice and endorsed the Turkish military operation into northern Syria, removing U.S. forces and paving the way for the assault on the Kurdish minority population.[87] Mulroy said the U.S. military presence in northeast Syria and our partnership with the SDF had been major contributors to stability in that area.[88][89]

Prior to the Turkish incursion, called Operation Peace Spring, Mulroy stated that if they did invade northeast Syria, the Kurdish element of the SDF will defend their people and Syrian's will endure even more suffering.[70][90][91] The New York Times said that DoD made "lemonade out of lemons" and pieced together their strategy after it had been undermined by a phone call between U.S. President Trump and Turkish President Erdogan in December 2018, only to have it done again by another phone call between U.S. President Trump and Turkish President Erdogan in October 2019. They continued that the DoD would try to piece it together again.[92] Mulroy advocated for an international plan to deal with the problems of the ISIS prisoners and the IDP camps publicly just days before the green-lighted Turkish incursion.[93] In early October 2019, the DoD pushed to get approval to keep a small group of forces located in Syria to be able to maintain the relationship with the SDF and continue the D-ISIS and stabilization mission.[94][95]

In November 2019, the New York Times reported that Ambassador William Roebuck, the senior U.S. diplomat in Syria, drafted a memorandum to the U.S. Special Envoy to Syria James Jeffrey that stated directly that the U.S. should have done more to stop the Turkish invasion into Syria. He said, “Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria, spearheaded by armed Islamist groups on its payroll, represents an intentioned-laced effort at ethnic cleansing and what can only be described as war crimes and ethnic cleansing.”[96] He also warned that “we — with our local partners — have lost significant leverage and inherited a shrunken, less stable platform to support both our CT efforts and the mission of finding a comprehensive political solution for Syria.”[96] The article said the Roebuck was the "second senior American official in the past week who has questioned whether the United States pressed hard enough with measures like joint American-Turkish ground and air patrols along the border, to avert a Turkish offensive into northern Syria" with the first official being Mulroy in an interview with Defense One.[96]

Death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Raid

On October 26, 2019, U.S. Joint Special Operations Command's (JSOC) Delta Force conducted a raid into the Idlib province of Syria on the border with Turkey that resulted in the death of Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai also known as Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi.[97] The raid was launched based on a CIA Special Activities Center's intelligence effort that located the leader of ISIS.[98] This operation was conducted during the withdrawal of U.S. forces northeast Syria, adding to the complexity.[99][100] Several senior officials commented that this operation was only possible because of the presence on the ground in Syria allowing for the development of intelligence networks. Any further reduction in troop presence could compromise this capability. The SDF provided direct and extensive support to the operation. The U.S. stated they de-conflicted with Turkey, but they did not support the operation.[101][102] Barisha, the village al-Baghdadi was killed in, was located five kilometers from the border of Syria and Turkey. Many in the U.S. intelligence community (IC) have suspicions that the Turkish government knew where al-Baghdadi was located.[103] Barisha is located in an area heavily controlled by al-Qaeda affiliates to include Al-Nusra Front–SRF/Hazzm Movement conflict, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Guardians of Religion Organization also known as Hurras ad-Din. Mulroy highlighted this area and the concern that intelligence and military officials had about the threats emanating from there before the Barisha raid.[104]

U.S. occupation of Syria

In late October 2019, the DoD had convinced President Trump to maintain a small presence in the Deir ez-Zor region of Syria to gain an American foothold in the local oil industry infrastructure and prevent the Syrian government from accessing their desperately-needed hydrocarbon resources.[105] CJTF-OIR stated that they were repositioning U.S. forces to continue partnering with the SDF to defeat ISIS remnants, protect critical infrastructure, and to deny ISIS access to revenue sources.[106] Secretary Esper stated that the oil fields were a substantial source of revenue for ISIS during their control and that the SDF could use the revenue now to offset the costs of keeping ISIS detainees.[107][108]

Caesar sanctions

On June 17, 2020, the U.S. imposed sanctions on 39 members of the Syrian government, including Assad and his wife. This was called for under Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act named for the alias used by a Syrian, who smuggled over 50,000 pictures of Syrians tortured by the government and jihadists in the two years between the outbreak of that country's civil war. Mulroy told Kurdistan 24 and ABC News that the Syrian government "has to be held accountable for what they have done to the Syrian people that resulted in over 700,000 people being killed and over 10 million being displaced”, that the international community also needs to "increase humanitarian aid and stabilization funding to the areas liberated from this despotic regime” and “do everything we can to help the Syrian people and everything we can to end the Syrian regime. They are the same.”[109][110] They added that in 2003, Mulroy worked with the Peshmerga, in the context of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.


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 DoD's support was limited to side-by-side coaching to mitigate civilian casualties. If the measure passed, it would do nothing to help the people of Yemen and may actually increase civilian deaths. Regarding the sale of weapons and munitions and foreign military sales, he said that was the responsibility of the U.S. State Department.[111] He strongly 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 visited Aden, Yemen to meet with officials from the Yemeni government before voting, also highlighted the need for "their voices to be heard."[112][113] Mulroy was specifically cited for his efforts in Yemen as the, "envisioned and initiated the Yemen Steering Initiative (YSI), a project designed to jumpstart the process to prevent Yemen from becoming a failed state. The United Nations incorporated the YSI to its planning process for stabilization."[18]

In September 2019, Saudi Arabia agreed to a cease-fire in several areas of Yemen, including the capital of Sana’a, which is controlled by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. This was part of broader efforts to end a four-year conflict that has threatened to escalate into a regional war.[114] The UN Special Envoy Griffiths believed the ceasefire was a positive sign in the progression of the peace process that started with the Stockholm agreement.[115] This was followed by an agreement to share power between the Southern Transition Council (STC) and the Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG) in October 2019, further advancing the effort to secure a lasting peace.[116]

On January 31, 2020, the New York Times reported that three U.S. officials "expressed confidence" that Qasim al-Raymi, the emir of AQAP was killed by the CIA on January 25,[117] in Al Abdiyah District, Ma'rib Governorate, Yemen. Al-Raymi eluded U.S. forces for years as he led what experts referred to as al-Qaida's “most dangerous franchise.” Yahoo News reported that Mulroy said his death would be “very significant.” Al-Raymi was the target of the Jan. 29, 2017, special operations raid in which Navy SEAL William Owens (Navy SEAL) was killed. The Wall Street Journal also reported al-Raymi attempted to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas Day of 2009.[23] Al-Raymi's actions “have killed countless innocent people including an attack on a hospital,” Mulroy explained, “The United States never forgets and their tenacity in pursuit removed this very dangerous person from the battlefield.” [118][119][120] U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to confirm reports that the U.S. had killed al-Raymi, by retweeting reports claiming that the CIA had conducted the strike.[121] Experts considered him a possible successor to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda overall.[121]


Mulroy was critical of the decision to pull all U.S. military forces out of Afghanistan by 11 September 2021. He explained that the U.S. and the coalition partners “liberated a country from the grips of the Taliban, which protected al-Qaeda, the group that attacked us in 2001. According to the World Bank, Afghanistan’s GDP rose from around $4 billion in 2002 to almost $20 billion in 2019. We also brought power, clean water, and education to millions.“[122] Although he acknowledges the desire to see all U.S. forces leave, he is concerned how that would undo the positive steps Afghanistan has made and allow the Taliban to take back over.[123] He told the Washington Post that “We’ve reduced our exposure and we’ve significantly reduced our casualties,” he said. “I just don’t think the investment of 3,000 troops is too much to keep what we’ve gained in 20 years.”[124]

Mulroy also expressed concern about the people who worked with the U.S. and how the Taliban would like retribution after leaving. He said that the U.S. should lift the cap for taking in refugees to accommodate those Afghans. [125] He also told ABC News that the United States should leave enough troops there to conduct counter-terrorism operations and assist the Afghan National Army.[126][127] [128]

After the decision to pull all forces out of Afghanistan, Mulroy was against closing down Bagram Air Base until all American Citizens and Special Immigrant Visas were evacuated.[129][130] He became heavily involved in the volunteer effort to help Afghan escape from Afghanistan in a group call “TF Dunkirk.” This group was made up primarily of former military and intelligence veterans.[131]

Comments on civil-military relations

In July 2020, U.S. Army general Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a House Armed Services Committee hearing that prominent Army bases named for rebel generals are divisive and can be offensive to black people in uniform. He has recommended creating a commission to study the matter.[132] On July 24, 2020, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed (86 to 14 in favor) Senate Bill S.4049,[133] their version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a provision that all 10 Army bases named after prominent Confederate military leaders be renamed.[134] On this issue, Mulroy said, American soldiers "should serve on bases that are named after the heroes that have sacrificed and fought for our country, not against it" and suggested that they should be renamed after Medal of Honor recipients instead.[135]

In September 2020, The Atlantic reported that Donald J. Trump considered Americans who were casualties of war to be "Losers" and Suckers" and was against disabled veterans being allowed to march in military parades.[136] Mulroy, who has four goddaughters that are all gold star daughters, said that he did not know what was said, but did know that our military cemeteries are hallowed ground and always will be and that no person that would be embarrassed by our wounded veterans should, "ever hold any elected office let alone be the President of the United States.“ [137]

Several military officials associated with multiple presidential administrations—including three former Trump appointees, ex-Secretary of Defense and retired Marine Corps general Jim Mattis, former White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Mick Mulroy—criticized Trump's response to the unrest that resulted from the murder of George Floyd.[138][139][140][141] Mulroy continued that, “Active Army and Marine Corps units are trained to fight our nation's enemies, not their fellow Americans. American cities are not battlefields."[141]

ABC News also identified Mulroy as one of the former officials who agreed to help the incoming Biden Administration with the transition during the time the Trump Administration refused to allow the transition to proceed.[142] They state that he described his participation in the transition process as a patriotic duty—not a political calculation. Mulroy specifically stated that "the incoming national security team deserves to have the full support of a transition to ensure the seamless transfer of power without incurring any unnecessary risk to our nation's security. I am supporting the incoming transition team because it is the right thing to do."[142][143]

CIA service

Mulroy is a retired Paramilitary and Operations Officers (PMOO) from the Special Activities Center (formerly named Special Activities Division) of the CIA. PMOOs are a hybrid of a clandestine intelligence officer and a military special operator, belonging to the Special Operations Group (SOG) within SAC.[144] They are recruited primarily from the United States Special Operations Command[145] and are a majority of the recipients of the rare CIA valor awards of the Distinguished Intelligence Cross and the Intelligence Star.[146]

While at the CIA, Mulroy spent most of career in conflict areas.[17] His positions included service 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, among others.[147] His CIA awards include the Intelligence Star, the Intelligence Commendation Medal, the Career Intelligence Medal and the National Intelligence Exceptional Achievement Medal, among others.[147] He is also a recipient of the State Department's Superior Honor Award.[147]

One of Mulroy's assignments in the CIA was as the head or Chief of a Base on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan called Shkin. This base was described by Time Magazine as the “most dangerous place on earth.” [148][149][150] In the book Obama’s War, Bob Woodward also explained that the CIA created Counter-Terrorism Pursuit Teams that are considered the “best Afghan fight force” and that Shkin base (also known as FOB Lilley) was a nerve center for their operations.[151][152]

In the book Madman Theory, about the foreign policy of the Trump Administration, author Jim Scuitto states that Mulroy was on the initial team into Northern Iraq in 2003 and fought along with the Kurdish Peshmerga with U.S. Army Special Forces.[153] In the book Mulroy describes the Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria as one of the few “partner forces where you can absolutely count on sticking in a fighting position with you, to the end.”[154]

Military service

Mulroy is a retired U.S. Marine and served as a commissioned officer and an enlisted Marine on active duty and in the reserves. He served as an Armored Crewman (United States military occupation code (MOS) 1811) of a M1 Abrams tank, a Judge Advocate (MOS 4412) and an Infantry Officer (MOS 0302).[3] His military awards include the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, among others. His son is also a U.S. Marine serving as a Sergeant (E-5) in Force Reconnaissance (MOS 0321) with Bravo Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion and was deployed to the Philippines in October 2019.[120][155]

Other service

In September 2020, the Atlantic Council started the Counterterrorism Study Group (CTSG), a bipartisan network of former U.S. Government professionals with extensive experience in counterterrorism policymaking and operations. The CTSG's stated purpose was to understand emerging trends and future predictions in CT and to explore creative new proposals for improving the effectiveness of current CT policies and operations.[156] Mulroy was one of these experts as well as Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, Mike Nagata, Matt Olsen, Nick Rasmussen, Russ Travers, and Owen West and others.[156]

Advocacy for child soldiers

My Star in the Sky

Yale University Screening

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 was seriously injured many times. The sixth time he was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. He was thrown into a mass grave and was almost buried until someone noticed his eyes moving. He recovered with minimal medical treatment and became a celestial navigator, a skill he had learned from his father. He later became a radio operator and code-talker and was eventually made Joseph Kony's radio operator.[13] Florence also served as a soldier. After marrying Anthony in the bush, she delivered her second child during a firefight. After the birth, she "stood up and tied the baby to her back, picked up her first child with one hand and her assault rifle with the other." Anthony and Florence eventually escaped, continued their family, and supports children orphaned by LRA soldiers to this day.[13][157]

Foreign Policy reports that the documentary came about after Mulroy and Oehlerich met the Opoka's during Operation Observant Compass (OOC).[13] Mulroy called OOC a “model” for how to address child soldiers using influence operations instead of lethal force. They worked with Non-Government Organizations (NGOs)s who found mothers of child soldiers and had them broadcast messages over the radio, begging them to come home. Mulroy said that many of these kids didn't think they were going to be allowed back, so to have their mother get on the radio and specifically tell them ‘we want you back’ made a big difference. He continued that other missions are driven by the kinetics—this was not. Marine Corps Col. Jon Darren Duke, who previously commanded OOC, said they did everything they could to get the child soldiers to defect so they would not have to fight them by using psychological operations to “appeal to them to lay down their arms,” he said during the screening.[13] Mulroy said that he hopes that OOC serves as a model for future programs to address child soldiers, as well as other operations, as it showed how the U.S. military could use “soft power, influence operations” and other aspects of so-called “irregular warfare” to fight the problem.[13]

This documentary has been screened at Yale University's Jackson Institute for Global Affairs,[158] the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C. based think tank for international affairs,[159] the Enough Project, a non-profit group to end crimes against humanity,[160] Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy,[157] and the Truman National Security Project, a left-leaning national security and leadership development organization based in Washington, D.C.[13][161][162] In April 2020, it was announced that author Mark Sullivan will be writing a book based on the documentary "My Star in the Sky". Sullivan has written several books including the New York Times best-selling book, "Beneath a Scarlet Sky" that is currently being made into a major motion picture.[163][164]

The Grassroots Reconciliation Group

Mulroy is on the Board of Directors for the Grassroots Reconciliation Group (GRG).[165] GRG was initiated as part of a United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded program called the Northern Uganda Peace Initiative (NUPI) to reconcile and rehabilitate former child soldiers of Joseph Kony's LRA. After USAID's contract with NUPI ended, co-founders Sasha Lezhnev and Kasper Agger continued helping these communities as a self-funded effort. Since 2007, GRG has worked with 38 groups and reached 2,200 people directly, and impacted more than 5000 indirectly.[166]

Comments on the subject

In an interview for the podcast Frog Logic, a podcast primarily for the special operations community, Mulroy said, "I don’t think anyone became a Marine, or a SEAL, or a [CIA] paramilitary officer with the idea that they were going to fight a child.”[167] In another interview with the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, Mulroy said, "To put an end to this practice, which I think every adult in the world should agree with, we will have to hold our partners as accountable as we hold our adversaries."[168] This statement was in response to a question about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's use of Sudanese children to fight their war in Yemen and the U.S. State Department waiving their inclusion in the list of countries that use child soldiers in violation of their obligations under the United Nations resolutions.[169]

During an interview by Lawfare, Mulroy explained that the U.S. has a law called the Child Soldiers Prevention Act that was passed unanimously by the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. This law bans the U.S. from providing military assistance or arms to countries that use children as soldiers. Still, the president may waive the application for specific countries if deemed to be in the national interest.[170] Mulroy criticized the U.S. for providing a waiver for Saudi Arabia and said that the U.S. had an obligation to hold its partners to at least the same standard as it holds its adversaries.[9][171] He further explained an estimated 100,000 children are fighting in over 18 countries around the world and that child soldiers use in the Middle East Doubled in 2019.[172] Mulroy said, "this is a problem that every adult should care about." [9]

In an article in ABC News, Mulroy called on the Biden Administration to do more to enforce the UN protocols and the Child Soldier Prevention Act against all countries including allies that use children as soldiers. He continued that “the Biden administration should vigorously use the Global Magnitsky Act to sanction corrupt officials, companies, and commanders involved in supporting armed groups that recruit child soldiers. Importantly, they should target the officials and corporate support structures to the militias, rather than just the militia leaders themselves who rarely travel or have bank accounts abroad.” [173]


Mulroy is a proponent of Stoic philosophy. In an essay in Modern Stoicism entitled, “A Case for the Philosopher King,” he pushed for a return of virtue ethics in school and teaching examples of those to look up to Marcus Aurelius, Harriet Tubman, Christina Noble, James Stockdale, John Lewis, Malala Yousafzai among others. He did this after citing the precipitous decline in the confidence Americans have in one another.[174][175]

In an article for ABC News, “Where philosophy intersects with war training: stoic soldiers,” he and Donald Robertson advocated for using stoicism as a philosophy in the military due to its focus on wisdom, justice, temperance, and courage.[176][177] He advocated for the U.S. military to incorporate stoicism into its basic training at a conference hosted by the U.S. Army National Guard in January 2021 and in a conference hosted by Modern Stoicism as one of the keynote speakers, along with retired National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Georgetown University Professor Nancy Sherman.[178][179]

Mulroy is also a member of the board of advisors for Plato's Academy in Athens, Greece.[180]


National security

Child soldiers



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External links