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US envoy to anti-IS coalition quits after ‘reckless’ Trump decision

Also on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron implied that the United States was no longer a “dependable” international ally following the decision on Syria.

“I very deeply regret the decision [the US] made on Syria,” Macron said.

“To be allies is to fight shoulder to shoulder. It’s the most important thing for a head of state and head of the military. An ally should be dependable.”

McGurk described Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops as a “shock.”

Only 11 days ago, McGurk had said it would be “reckless” to consider IS defeated and it would therefore be unwise to withdraw American forces. Following Trump’s announcement, McGurk brought forward his original plan to leave his post in mid-February.

Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the global coalition against Islamic State.

Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the global coalition against Islamic State.Credit:AP

“The recent decision by the President came as a shock and was a complete reversal of policy,” he said in an email to his staff.

“It left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered with no plan in place or even considered thought as to consequences.”

McGurk, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2015 and retained by Trump, said in his resignation letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the militants were on the run, but not yet defeated, and that the premature pullout of US forces from Syria would create the conditions that gave rise to IS.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis was regarded by traditional allies as their most sympathetic and effective conduit to President Donald Trump.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis was regarded by traditional allies as their most sympathetic and effective conduit to President Donald Trump.Credit:Bloomberg

The letter was submitted on Friday and described to the AP on Saturday by an official familiar with its contents.

Trump played down the development, tweeting on Saturday night that he didn’t even know who McGurk was and implying that McGurk was a “Grandstander?”

Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, appeared on ABC’s This Week on Sunday and also denied knowing anything about McGurk or his role.

“I have no idea who that person is. Never heard of him … until yesterday,” he said.

Shortly after news of McGurk’s resignation broke, Trump used an error-ridden tweet to defend his decision to pull all of the roughly 2000 US forces from Syria in the coming weeks.

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“We were originally going to be there for three months, and that was seven years ago – we never left,” Trump tweeted. “When I became President, ISIS was going wild. Now ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains. We’re coming home!”

In fact the US has been involved in Syria for fours years, not seven.

Although the civil war in Syria has gone on since 2011, the US did not begin launching airstrikes against IS until September 2014, and American troops did not go into Syria until 2015.

In his email to his staff, McGurk said: “I worked this week to help manage some of the fallout, but – as many of you heard in my many meetings and phone calls – I ultimately concluded that I could not carry out these new instructions and maintain my integrity at the same time.”

Trump’s declaration of a victory over IS has been roundly contradicted by his own experts’ assessments, and his decision to pull troops out was widely denounced by members of Congress, who called his action rash.

Mattis, perhaps the most respected foreign policy official in the administration, announced on Thursday that he will leave by the end of February. He told Trump in a letter that he was departing because “you have a right to have a Secretary of Defence whose views are better aligned with yours.”

The withdrawal decision will fulfill Trump’s goal of bringing troops home from Syria, but military leaders have pushed back for months, arguing that the IS group remains a threat and could regroup in Syria’s long-running civil war. US policy has been to keep troops in place until the extremists are eradicated.

Among officials’ key concerns is that a US pullout will leave US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces vulnerable to attacks by Turkey, the Syrian government and remaining IS fighters. The SDF, a Kurdish-led force, is America’s only military partner in Syria.

McGurk said at a State Department briefing on December 11 that “it would be reckless if we were just to say, ‘Well, the physical caliphate is defeated, so we can just leave now.'”

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McGurk, 45, is one of the administration’s most experienced diplomats specialising in the Middle East. He previously served as a deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran. During the negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal by the Obama administration, he led secret side talks with Tehran on the release of Americans imprisoned there.

McGurk was briefly considered for the post of ambassador to Iraq after having served as a senior official covering Iraq and Afghanistan during President George W. Bush’s administration.

A former Supreme Court law clerk to the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, McGurk worked as a lawyer for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion and joined Bush’s National Security Council staff, where in 2007 and 2008, he was the lead US negotiator on security agreements with Iraq.

Taking over for now for McGurk will be his deputy, retired Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff, who served three tours of active duty in Iraq.

IS militants still hold a string of villages and towns along the Euphrates River in eastern Syria, where they have resisted weeks of attacks by the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces to drive them out. The pocket is home to about 15,000 people, among them 2000 IS fighters, according to US military estimates.

But that figure could be as high as 8000 militants, if fighters hiding out in the deserts south of the Euphrates River are also counted, according to according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict from the UK through networks of local informants.

Reuters

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