Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, has announced his resignation, reportedly in protest of President Trump’s decision this week to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria.
McGurk, a veteran diplomat with more than a decade of experience in Iraq, had worked with the 79-member global coalition led by the U.S. to reclaim territory seized by the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq.
His resignation is effective December 31st. McGurk was originally planning to leave his job in mid-February.
McGurk wrote an email to his colleagues explaining his resignation, according to The New York Times. “The recent decision by the president came as a shock and was a complete reversal of policy that was articulated to us,” McGurk wrote. “It left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered.”
“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.
News of McGurk’s resignation came just two days after Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced he too was leaving the Trump administration. Mattis’ resignation followed the abrupt announcement by President Trump on Wednesday that he was pulling all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. In a tweet that day, the president declared that “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”
In a resignation letter, Mattis said he felt he could no longer continue to execute President Trump’s policies. He cited the coalition of nations that has united to fight the Islamic State as one of America’s unique alliances and partnerships.
President Trump’s decision on Syria was against the advice of experts on the region, as well as many of his own advisers.
Thousands of ISIS fighters remain in control of towns and villages in Eastern Syria. Earlier this month, McGurk said it would be “reckless” to consider the Islamic State defeated, and unwise to bring American forces home.
“Even as the end of the physical caliphate is clearly now coming into sight, the end of ISIS will be a much more long-term initiative … Nobody working on these issues day-to-day is complacent. No one is declaring mission accomplished,” McGurk said in a December 11th briefing for the media.
Other military leaders have also said the coalition has a long way to go in its fight against the ISIS. “Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said the Pentagon estimates that 35,000 to 40,000 local security forces are needed to ensure stability in northeastern Syria. As of December, Dunford said, only about 20 percent of those forces have been trained,” The Washington Post reports.
In addition to the potential of a resurgence by the Islamic State in the region, experts warn U.S. withdrawal from Syria will endanger millions in need of humanitarian aid.
“Aid groups are warning that humanitarian relief delivered to some 1.6 million Syrians in the northeastern region may be at risk if the Trump administration quickly withdraws U.S. troops and personnel from Syria, as announced this week,” The Wall Street Journal reports.
The NYT reports, “Brett is one of our longest serving and most effective officials dealing with the region,” said Gen. John Allen, McGurk’s predecessor.
“His departure, following that of Jim Mattis and others, will leave us less safe at a moment when this president seems unwilling to take, or unable to understand, the ‘best advice’ of his leaders,” he said. “Day by day, decision by decision, this administration is leaving America and Americans less safe and more vulnerable.”
NPR’s Tom Bowman reports that efforts are being made by people with “long experience in national security affairs” to convince President Trump to moderate his decision to withdraw troops from Syria and reduce forces in Afghanistan.