A four-star US Air Force general said in a memo that his gut told him the US would fight China in the next two years, comments that Pentagon officials said were not consistent with American military assessments.
"I hope I am wrong," General Mike Minihan, who heads the Air Mobility Command, wrote to the leadership of its roughly 110,000 members. "My gut tells me will fight in 2025."
The letter was dated Feb 1 but had been sent out on Friday.
The general's views do not represent the Pentagon but show concern at the highest levels of the US military over a possible attempt by China to exert control over Taiwan, which China claims as a territory. Both the US and Taiwan will hold presidential elections in 2024, potentially creating an opportunity for China to take military action, Minihan wrote.
"These comments are not representative of the department's view on China," a US defence official said.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said earlier this month he seriously doubted that ramped up Chinese military activities near the Taiwan Strait were a sign of an imminent invasion of the island by Beijing.
China has stepped up its diplomatic, military and economic pressure in recent years on the self-governed island to accept Beijing's rule. Taiwan's government says it wants peace but will defend itself if attacked.
Reuters reviewed a copy of Minihan's memo, which was first reported by NBC News.
In response to a request for comment, Air Force Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said in a statement that military competition with China is a central challenge.
"Our focus remains on working alongside allies and partners to preserve a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific," he said.