‘An ally should be dependable’: Macron on US withdrawal from Syria

Trump announces Patrick Shanahan to replace James Mattis as acting defence secretary

US president Donald Trump and French president Emmanuel Macron. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/AFP/Getty Images

US president Donald Trump and French president Emmanuel Macron. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/AFP/Getty Images


French president Emmanuel Macron said he deeply regretted US president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria.

In an abrupt policy shift, Mr Trump announced on Wednesday that Washington would withdraw the roughly 2,000 US troops in Syria, upending a pillar of American policy in the Middle East and alarming allies of the US.

“I very deeply regret the decision made on Syria,” Mr Macron said during a news conference in Chad. “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.”

Mr Macron stressed the importance of the work of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which has captured large parts of northern and eastern Syria from Islamic State, also known as Isis.

“I call on everyone ... not to forget what we owe them,” he said.

US officials justified the decision by saying Islamic State had been defeated.

Mr Trump announced that deputy secretary of defence Patrick Shanahan would take over from James Mattis as acting secretary of defence on January 1st, 2019. Mr Mattis resigned on Thursday over policy differences with Mr Trump and after the president announced his Syria withdrawal.

He had been expected to remain until the end of February, despite a resignation letter in which he levelled severe criticism at the president over his foreign policy and treatment of allies.

Another resignation

Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy to the coalition fighting Islamic State, has meanwhile accelerated his resignation, telling colleagues this weekend that he could not in good conscience following the Syria announcement by Mr Trump.

Mr McGurk, a seasoned diplomat who was considered by many to be the glue holding together the sprawling international coalition fighting the terrorist group, was supposed to retire in February. But according to an email he sent his staff, he decided to move his departure forwards to December 31st after Mr Trump did not heed his own commanders and blindsided America’s allies in the region by abruptly ordering the withdrawal of the 2,000 troops.

His decision comes right after the departure of Mr Mattis. “The recent decision by the president came as a shock and was a complete reversal of policy that was articulated to us,” Mr McGurk wrote in the email to his colleagues. “It left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered,” he added.

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

Highly experienced

Mr McGurk had more than a decade of experience in Iraq spanning three administrations and helped stitch together the 79-member coalition led by the United States, which oversaw the battle to take back cities from the terrorist group. He became special envoy in late 2015, during the Obama administration.

In a shift from the way the insurgency had been fought during the Bush administration, one of the Obama administration’s core doctrines was that the US’s allies in the region needed to take the lead in recapturing territory, with US forces providing only air support and limited logistical assistance.

This meant that the ground war to take back key cities captured by Islamic State, such as Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, took years to mount. And it came down to the 45-year-old McGurk to negotiate alliances and broker military aid to the mosaic of armed groups and governments vying for control of the region. – Reuters/New York Times