WASHINGTON – Outgoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has signed an order requiring the reduction of U.S. military from Syria, following through on an abrupt announcement President Donald Trump made via Twitter last week.
A U.S. defense official, who requested anonymity to speak about a decision that had not yet been formally announced, said that "the execute order for Syria has been signed" but declined to provide further details. The U.S. has roughly 2,000 troops there.
Trump announced the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria on Dec. 14, rebuffing the advice of Mattis and his national security adviser, John Bolton, among other top officials. Days later, Mattis resigned over disagreements with Trump, and U.S. officials said the president was also considering a major draw down in Afghanistan.
Opponents of pulling out of Syria argue ISIS fighters remain a dangerous threat inside the country even though the terrorist group no longer holds a significant swath of territory.
Mattis and others also argued the decision to leave would make allies in Syria, mainly Kurdish fighters who have helped defeat ISIS, vulnerable to attack from Turkey. Trump's allies have countered that the president promised during his campaign to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Trump has said other nations should eradicate the remaining ISIS fighters.
Trump made the Syria decision after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has threatened to attack the Kurds and pressed Trump to withdraw American forces, according to the Associated Press.
Mattis will leave the Pentagon on Jan. 1 rather than the previously announced resignation date of Feb. 28 because of policy disputes with Trump. The president has named Patrick Shanahan, the deputy Defense secretary, as acting secretary of Defense.
President @RT_Erdogan of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria....and he is a man who can do it plus, Turkey is right “next door.” Our troops are coming home!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 24, 2018
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis signs order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria