Top Republicans to probe resignation of 'livid' James Mattis amid Syria controversy

Defence secretary reportedly concerned about fate of Kurdish and Arab allies

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly resigns

Senior Republicans have vowed to investigate the resignation of a supposedly “livid” James Mattis, who quit the Trump administration out of frustration at the president’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria.

Mr Mattis, 68, a former Marine Corps’ general, said he would be leaving in February – announcing his decision in an excoriating letter that underscored his belief in relationships with allies and other subjects about which his views and those of the president sharply differed.

“One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships,” he wrote.

On Friday, as Republican and Democrats alike, along with many foreign officials who had worked with him, expressed regret over Mr Mattis’s imminent departure, Senator Lindsey Graham said he would hold a hearing into two issues that sparked the defence secretary’s resignation – the withdrawal of US troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

Mr Graham, a senator from South Carolina and a member of the armed services committee, said he would hold a hearing and ask Mr Mattis to attend. “I’m going to ask for hearings like right now about Syria,” he said, before heading into a meeting with Republicans.

Speculation about the possible departure of Mr Mattis had been taking place for several months, as the general found himself out of agreement with the president on numerous issues – the Iran nuclear deal, transgender people serving in the military, the threat to the US and its allies from climate change, and the need for comprehensive US diplomacy.

The Associated Press said the final trigger was when Mr Trump earlier this week announced that Isis had been defeated and that he wanted to withdraw the modest number of US troops – about 2,000 – from northern Syria. While the US operations to clear Isis over the last 12 months also resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties, supporters of their mission say their presence also provides protection to the Kurdish and Arab militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who have been fighting Isis with the support of Washington.

Many believe if the US troops were to leave, Turkey, which has stridently opposed American support for the SDF because it believes they are the same group of Kurds as the PKK, a guerilla organisation that have been active in Turkey for decades.

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Asked about the fate of those Kurdish allies, secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Friday said: “You shouldn’t enter that debate today. The history between the Turks and the Kurdish is a long one, it is a complicated one, and the US is deeply aware of the set of relationships there.”

Kurdish journalist Akid, who lives in the town of Al-Hasakah, told Haaretz that people there felt trapped between the threat of the return of the Syrian regime to the Kurdish region, and the new peril of the Turkish army.

“They are not different from one another,” he said. “Either way, we face a real danger. People are scared to death. They fear a loss of security and immediate threats.”

Reports said that Mr Mattis had written his resignation letter when he travelled to the White House in a final attempt to persuade Mr Trump to change his mind.

As it was, Mr Trump had already spoken with Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which the US president abruptly decided to switch US policy and withdraw troops from Syria.

During that call, Mr Erdogan reminded Mr Trump he had said the only reason US troops were in Syria was to battle Isis and said the group has been 99 per cent destroyed, an assessment not shared by all experts. “Why are you still there,” the Turkish leader reportedly asked Mr Trump. The White House has dismissed the Associated Press story

“In no uncertain terms, reporting throughout this story is not true,” national security council spokesman Garrett Marquis said in a statement. “It is clear from the context that this false version of events is from sources who lack authority on the subject, possibly from unnamed sources in Turkey.”

Meanwhile, CNN said that two officials had said Mr Mattis had been upset and “livid” after reading reports about the Kurdish allies in Syria being targeted by Turkey following a withdrawal of US troops from Syria.

The officials said what set him off was a report that the Turkish minister of defence threatened to kill the US-backed Kurdish allies and put them “in ditches” once the US pulled out.

Mr Mattis was incensed at this and the notion that the US was betraying an ally, the broadcaster said.

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