US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis quits

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly announced his resignation on Thursday, a day after President Donald Trump overruled his advice against pulling troops out of Syria

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly announced his resignation on Thursday, a day after President Donald Trump overruled his advice against pulling troops out of Syria and pressed forward on discussions to withdraw forces from Afghanistan.

Mattis will leave by the end of February after two tumultuous years in the post, the latest high-profile exit to shake the Trump administration.

In his resignation letter, Mattis told Trump that he was leaving because “you have a right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours”.

Trump wrote on Twitter that Mattis was retiring – but that’s not what the former Pentagon chief said.

The announcement came a day after Trump surprised Washington’s allies and members of Congress by announcing the withdrawal of all US troops from Syria, and as he continues to consider shrinking the American deployment in Afghanistan.

Trump’s decision to pull soldiers out of Syria has been sharply criticised for abandoning Washington’s Kurdish allies, who may well face a Turkish assault once US troops leave, and had been staunchly opposed by the Pentagon.

Mattis, in his resignation letter, emphasised the importance of standing up for US allies – an implicit criticism of the president’s decision on this issue and others.

“While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies,” Mattis wrote.

Philip J Crowley, a former US assistant secretary of state and national security council senior official, said behind Trump’s decision to pull forces out of Syria and the rumoured, at least partial withdrawal from Afghanistan “was the lack of any kind of strategic process within the American national security system”.

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“These are very consequential decisions,” he told Al Jazeera.

“I think both of them are defensible in one way but in both cases then you need some sort of strategic shift: we finished our military operation here and then we’re moving ahead with a diplomatic initiative there,” Crowley added.

“The fact that the president seems to have done both of these things by instinct without broad consultation either within the American government or the allies around the world is contrary to how Jim Mattis would do business – and did do business throughout his distinguished career.”

Mattis’ departure was quickly lamented by politicians on both sides of the aisle, who viewed him as a sober voice of experience in the ear of a president who had never before held political office or served in the military.

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