US President Donald Trump on Sunday announced he is to replace US Secretary of Defense James Mattis with his deputy, Patrick Shanahan, speeding up the Pentagon chief’s planned exit days after he quit, citing key policy differences with the US president.
Mattis, 68, had said he would leave at the end of February to allow a smooth transition for the next chief of the world’s top military power, but Trump — who was reportedly upset over media coverage of the stinging resignation letter submitted by the defense secretary — moved up the timetable.
“I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019,” Trump tweeted.
“Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!” he wrote.
Trump initially praised Mattis in a tweet announcing his departure, saying that he was retiring “with distinction” and that “during Jim’s tenure, tremendous progress has been made.”
However, he changed his tone two days later, writing on Twitter that he had given Mattis a “second chance” after he was “ingloriously” fired by then-US president Barack Obama, and appearing to take aim at a line from Mattis’ resignation letter about respecting allies.
“Allies are very important — but not when they take advantage of US,” Trump wrote.
The announcement that Mattis would leave the administration came just after Trump stunned Washington and allies abroad in declaring that US troops would leave Syria and significantly withdraw from Afghanistan.
Mattis and others had counseled the often-impulsive president against those moves — and the decorated retired general did little to hide his disagreement with Trump.
“Because you have the right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned with yours, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” Mattis said in his resignation letter.
“My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, the US military has confirmed that the order to withdraw US troops from Syria had been signed, after Trump held talks with his Turkish counterpart to negotiate a pullout that has stunned Washington’s allies.
“The execute order for Syria has been signed,” a US military spokesperson told Agence France-Presse on Sunday in response to a query, without providing further details.
Turkey was a rare ally that lauded Trump’s decision on Syria, a country where it will now have a freer rein to target Kurdish fighters who were armed and trained by the US and played a major role in the war against Islamic State (IS) militants, but are deemed terrorists by Ankara.
Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone on Sunday and “agreed to ensure coordination between their countries’ military, diplomatic and other officials to avoid a power vacuum which could result following any abuse of the withdrawal and transition phase in Syria,” Erdogan said in a statement.
Trump tweeted that he and Erdogan “discussed [IS], our mutual involvement in Syria, & the slow & highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area.”
Later on Sunday he tweeted that Erdogan had assured him that any IS fighters remaining will be eliminated.
“President @RT_Erdogan of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria,” Trump said in a tweet.
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