The U.S. special envoy against Islamic State Group resigned after Trump's decision to pull troops out of Syria. Trump claims not to know him.
A top United States envoy leading the global coalition fighting Islamic State Group has quit over President Donald Trump’s decision this week to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, a source familiar with the matter said Saturday.
Brett McGurk, U.S. special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat the IS group, submitted his resignation effective Dec. 31 to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Friday, a State Department official said.
In an abrupt policy shift, Trump announced Wednesday that Washington would withdraw the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, upending a pillar of American policy in the Middle East and alarming U.S. allies.
The decision was followed Thursday by the surprise departure of U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who in a resignation letter to Trump laid bare the growing divide between the two over foreign policy.
McGurk, who was slated to leave his post in February 2019, objected to Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, a person familiar with the matter said, and added that Mattis’ departure had a “significant impact” on McGurk’s resignation.
Trump, for his part, tweeted late Saturday that McGurk had simply moved up the date of his resignation and added, “Grandstander?”
Brett McGurk, who I do not know, was appointed by President Obama in 2015. Was supposed to leave in February but he just resigned prior to leaving. Grandstander? The Fake News is making such a big deal about this nothing event!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2018
McGurk was appointed by Obama in 2015 and has been instrumental in shaping Washington’s policy in northern Syria, particularly its backing of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militia that has been fighting IS group with U.S. support for three years.
The U.S. allied forces have won significant victories against the group in northern Syria, retaking key cities such as Raqqa, once deemed the capital of its self-declared caliphate. But McGurk, along with other U.S. government agencies, believed the fight against the IS group was hardly over.
“It would be reckless if we were just to say, well, the physical caliphate is defeated, so we can just leave now,” McGurk told reporters in a briefing on Dec. 11 at the State Department. “Nobody is declaring a mission accomplished.”
By contrast, Trump has claimed victory against Islamic State Group and considers the mission in Syria over given the group’s territorial losses. “Now ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains,” Trump wrote on Twitter Saturday.
Trump’s declaration of triumph has alarmed key NATO allies such as France and Germany, who said the change of course on Syria risks damaging the fight against IS Group.