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Donald Trump

James Mattis quits as Donald Trump’s defence secretary, laying bare their differences in a scathing resignation letter

  • James Mattis resigned one day after Donald Trump stunned the Pentagon by announcing the withdrawal of US troops from Syria
  • In his resignation letter, Mattis said the US had to be ‘unambiguous’ with nations like Russia and China, and it needed to treat allies with respect
PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 December, 2018, 6:48am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 December, 2018, 11:26pm

US Defence Secretary James Mattis has abruptly handed in his resignation, laying bare his differences with US President Donald Trump in a scathing letter after a face-to-face meeting in which they aired their differences.

Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general who was known as a stabilising force in Trump’s Cabinet, will leave his job at the end of February, Trump said in a tweet on Thursday, which described Mattis as “retiring”.

The fate of Mattis had been under intense scrutiny since Trump announced on Wednesday that he was withdrawing US troops from Syria, despite opposition from US allies and Trump’s own top military officials.

In his unvarnished resignation letter, Mattis said he was stepping down so Trump could have a defence secretary who shared his own views.

Read US Defence Secretary James Mattis’ resignation letter to Trump in full

Mattis said the US must be “unambiguous” with nations like Russia and China, and it was his core belief that the US needed to show its allies respect and stand up to “malign actors”.

“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,” Mattis wrote.

Trump, announcing Mattis’ departure on Twitter, said he would nominate a successor soon.

“General Jim Mattis will be retiring, with distinction, at the end of February, after having served my Administration as Secretary of Defense for the past two years,” he said.

Mattis joins a long list of former Trump administration senior figures who have either quit or been removed, some unceremoniously like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who Trump fired via Twitter in March.

Trump’s White House has had the highest turnover of senior-level staff of the past five presidents, according to the Brookings Institution think tank.

Speculation that Mattis might not last long in his post grew in October when Republican Trump said in a CBS interview that the general was “sort of a Democrat” and might be leaving.

Mattis, along with other national security aides, was said to have opposed Trump’s decision to remove US troops from Syria. Many US lawmakers have expressed concern about the decision and asked Trump to reconsider.

Donald Trump’s troop pull-out from Syria weakens US hand in the Middle East and boosts Russia

A senior White House official said that Mattis resigned during an Oval Office meeting with Trump on Thursday.

“He and the president had differences on some issues. I don’t know if it was specifically Syria,” the official said.

On Thursday, officials said the president was also considering a substantial US pullout from the 17-year-long conflict in Afghanistan.

Mattis has argued for maintaining a strong US military presence in Afghanistan to bolster diplomatic peace efforts. 

The Pentagon declined comment on Afghanistan.

Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said that the White House was not going to comment “on future strategic developments.”

US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said thousands of the 14,000 troops in Afghanistan could be sent home as a result of the deliberations, the disclosure of which could undermine peace efforts with the Taliban.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse