- President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw troops from Syria without consulting his combatant commander in the region, the top US general in the Middle East said on Tuesday.
- “We were not – I was not – consulted,” Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of US Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
- The president’s announcement late last year shocked top US officials and allies and was reportedly the final straw for Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, who quickly resigned. Trump has claimed he forced Mattis out.
President Donald Trump did not consult his top general in the Middle East before he announced late last year that he would withdraw US troops from Syria.
“I was not aware of the specific announcement,” Gen. Joseph Votel, the Army officer who as head of US Central Command oversees the wars in Syria and Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. “Certainly we are aware that he had expressed a desire and intent in the past to depart.”
He added: “We were not – I was not – consulted.”
The president declared victory over the Islamic State terrorist group in a video message on December 19, stressing the need to pull US troops out.
“We have won against ISIS,” Trump said. “We’ve beaten them, and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land. And now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”
An estimated 2,000 US troops are in Syria.
Apparently the major decision didn’t warrant consultation with or even a courtesy call to the combatant commander leading military operations in the region.
Last week, senior US intelligence officials told theSenate Intelligence Committee that ISIS would “exploit any reduction” in counterterrorism pressure “to strengthen its clandestine presence and accelerate rebuilding key capabilities.”
This week, the Pentagon, citing Central Command, reported that ISIS “could likely resurge in Syria within six to twelve months and regain limited territory” if pressure is not maintained.
Votel said Tuesday that while ISIS’s caliphate is crumbling, “the fight against ISIS and violent extremists is not over, and our mission has not changed.” He stressed that all that has been won on the battlefield can be secured only by “maintaining a vigilant offensive” against ISIS.
Trump has repeatedly disregarded the observations and advice of the US intelligence community and his senior military leaders. His decision to withdraw from Syria was reportedly the final straw for Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, who quickly resigned. Trump has claimed he forced Mattis out.
“I think I would have been a good general,” Trump said early last month.
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