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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 January 2019

US Secretary of Defence James Mattis resigns after clashing with Trump

Citing differences with US President, including Syria, the US Defence Chief is exiting the administration end of February

Donald Trump revealed Mattis' departure on Twitter. AFP
Donald Trump revealed Mattis' departure on Twitter. AFP

US Secretary of Defence James Mattis will be leaving his position in February following differences with US President Donald Trump that include his recent decision to withdraw troops from Syria.

US President Donald Trump, announced via Twitter that General Mattis will be departing his position in February. He will be “retiring with distinction”, Mr Trump said.

Mr Mattis is the latest in long list of high-ranking generals and senior officials to exit the administration in 2018.

His resignation as secretary of defence follows growing differences between him and the White House on domestic and foreign policies. The plan to withdraw from Syria was the straw that broke the camel’s back, pushing Mr Mattis to resign, The National has learned.

The US defence chief strongly opposed the plan and made his position clear to the White House before and after Mr Trump’s decision, according to US defence source. The US general urged a long-term presence until ISIS is defeated in Syria.

It appears Mr Mattis is not the only one dissatisfied with Mr Trumps decision. Fox News reports morale is down at the Pentagon and the head of Central Command, Gen Joseph Votel, has called the Syria withdrawal plan akin to feeling “punched in the gut”.

In a two-page resignation letter, Mr Mattis cited differences with Mr Trump behind his resignation. “Because you have the right to have a secretary of defence whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.” He defended a strong alliance with Nato and called for clarity in the approach to Russia and China “whose strategic interest are increasingly in tension with ours”.

Mr Mattis was commended for his work as defence secretary by the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affars Dr Anwar Gargash, who praised his "deep understanding" of regional issues in a message on Twitter.

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Read more:

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The outgoing US defence chief also clashed with Mr Trump over his immigration policies, withdrawal of US troops from the Korean Peninsula, and over military planning in Iran and Syria. In his book Fear, journalist Bob Woodward’s claimed Mr Mattis described the US president as someone with the intellect for “fifth or sixth grader”.

His resignation does not come as a surprise, however. Reports on Mr Mattis’s potential exit have been rumoured since early 2018, and grew after former secretary of state Rex Tillerson was fired in March.

Even though expected, his resignation throws a wrench into the Trump administration policy. It also marks the exit of most prominent general from a cabinet position in the Trump era. Other generals who have left or will be leaving by the end of the year are White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and former national security adviser HR McMaster.

The incoming speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi told reporters that she was shaken by Mr Mattis’s exit. Calling him a “voice of stability”, Ms Pelosi said the resignation is “very serious for our country.”

Mr Mattis served more than four decades in the US military and his last position was the head of Centcom until 2013. He was confirmed as secretary of defence in January 2017.

Updated: December 22, 2018 11:51 AM

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