AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
- General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, told CNN on Friday that he disagreed with the president’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria.
- He said that had he been asked, he would not have made that suggestion, but the president did not consult his combatant commander in the Middle East before he made his decision.
- Votel also disagreed with the president’s assertion that ISIS has been defeated.
The top US general in the Middle East said he disagreed with President Donald Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria, but the president never bothered to ask him for his thoughts on the matter.
"It would not have been my military advice at that particular time," General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, told CNN on Friday. "I would not have made that suggestion, frankly."
"[ISIS] still has leaders, still has fighters, it still has facilitators, it still has resources, so our continued military pressure is necessary to continue to go after that network," he added.
Trump declared victory over ISIS prematurely in mid-December, proudly announcing that it is time to withdraw US forces from Syria. His assertions have been contradicted by experts, intelligence leaders, lawmakers (including those from his own party), and senior military leaders, yet Trump insists that ISIS has been defeated.
"When I say, ‘we have defeated them,’" Votel explained to CNN, "I want to ensure that means they do not have the capability to plot or direct attacks against the US or our allies. They still have this very powerful ideology, so they can inspire."
He added that US-backed forces in the region are not yet capable of fighting ISIS on their own, without American assistance.
These are all things the general might have told the president had he asked his combatant commander for his advice before suddenly deciding to withdraw roughly 2,000 US troops from Syria, but Trump didn’t ask, the general recently told Congress.
"I was not aware of the specific announcement," Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Certainly, we are aware that he had expressed a desire and intent in the past to depart."
"We were not — I was not — consulted," he added.
Trump, who has previously asserted that he probably would have made a good general, made the decision without consulting the Army general who has been overseeing the fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. The unexpected move was reportedly the last straw for Jim Mattis, who resigned as defense secretary during the fallout in the aftermath of the decision.
A recent Pentagon report suggests that without continued military pressure, ISIS could resurge in as little as six months.
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