Pentagon official says Mattis was not wrong to oppose Syria withdrawal
The Pentagon official in charge of special operations said Wednesday former Defense Secretary James Mattis was not wrong to object to the U.S. withdrawal from Syria.
At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on counterterrorism, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) asked Owen West, assistant secretary of Defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, whether Mattis was “wrong” to disagree with the withdrawal.
“No, sir,” West replied.
West is the latest official to voice concern about President Trump’s plan to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria.
A day after Trump announced his decision in December, Mattis tendered his resignation.
Last week, the top U.S. intelligence officials warned of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) potential to resurge without sustained pressure, as did a Pentagon inspector general report Monday. On Tuesday, the commander of U.S. Central Command said he was not consulted prior to Trump’s announcement.
During Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, Trump defended his plan in Syria, as well as his desire to draw down in Afghanistan, saying that “great nations do not fight endless wars.”
Trump is scheduled later Wednesday to address the 79-member global coalition to defeat ISIS at the State Department.
At Wednesday’s hearing, West said that while U.S. troops do not need to be “co-located” with partner forces to keep pressure on ISIS, it will be more difficult to do so.
“Militarily, we will be less effective,” he said.
West also said he does “not know the strategic thinking that went into” Trump’s decision.
At the same hearing, Maj. Gen. James Hecker, vice director of operations for the Joint Staff, similarly said it will be “a very difficult situation” to keep pressure on ISIS after withdrawing.
“What we need to do is work with our allies, work with the [Syrian Democratic Forces], work with the surrounding countries, whether that be Iraq, Jordan or Turkey, on how we can keep the pressure on,” Hecker said.
Pressed by Moulton whether he agrees a withdrawal does not keep pressure on ISIS, Hecker said there “will be a decrease” in pressure by leaving Syria.