The top U.S. general in the Middle East and Central Asia said Friday that President Donald Trump was wrong to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria and to declare without evidence that ISIS had been defeated.
“It would not have been my military advice at that particular time,” Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, told CNN, joining current and former military leaders who have publicly criticized the president’s foreign policy decisions. “I would not have made that suggestion, frankly.”
Votel testified this month before the Senate that he “was not consulted” on the president’s pullout decision, even though he’s the commander on the ground. He knew of Trump’s desire to withdraw troops from Syria, but “I was not aware of the specific announcement,” he said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Feb. 5.
Trump’s abrupt announcement in December led to the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis and State Department envoy Brett McGurk. The declaration of victory over ISIS contradicted evidence from U.S. defense and intelligence officials, who have said that ISIS remains a major threat and could resurge.
Votel said Friday that 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.”
“When I say, ‘We have defeated them,’ I want to ensure that means they do not have the capability to plot or direct attacks against the U.S. or our allies,” Votel said. “They still have this very powerful ideology, so they can inspire.”