A top US general – who is in charge of military operations in the Middle East – says he "was not consulted" prior to President Donald Trump's announcement about the US troop withdrawal from Syria.
US Army General Joseph Votel, the head of the US military's Central Command, said on Tuesday that he had not been asked for advice by Trump on a decision that 2,000 American troops stationed in Syria would be pulled out of the war-torn country.
"I was not aware of the specific announcement. Certainly we are aware that he had expressed a desire and intent in the past to depart Iraq, depart Syria," Votel said during a hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Pressed further by Senator Angus King (I-Maine) on whether he was consulted ahead of Trump’s December announcement, Votel replied, “I was not consulted.”
On December 19, Trump claimed victory against Daesh terrorists in Syria and announced that he was planning to pull out some 2,000 US troops from the conflict-torn Arab country, and also cut in half the roughly 14,000 American forces in Afghanistan.
The announcement resulted in the resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, US anti-Daesh coalition envoy Brett McGurk and Pentagon chief of staff Rear Admiral Kevin Sweeney who disapproved of the president's decision.
Trump, nevertheless, seemingly gave in to pressure to slow down the troops pullout two weeks later, granting the US military up to four months to withdraw.
During his testimony on Tuesday, Votel dismissed Trump's claims that Daesh has been defeated and said the fight against the terrorist group was "not over," warning the Takfiri outfit could regroup after US troops left.
“It is important to understand that even though this territory has been reclaimed, the fight against ISIS and violent extremists is not over and our mission has not changed,” he told the Senate hearing, using another acronym for the terror group also known as Daesh or ISIL.
“We do have to keep pressure on this network ... They have the ability of coming back together if we don’t,” Votel added.
The top US intelligence officials told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that Daesh “will exploit any reduction in [counterterrorism] pressure to strengthen its clandestine presence and accelerate rebuilding key capabilities.”
The US deployed troops and equipment to Syria in 2014 as part of a Washington-led coalition that is supposedly fighting ISIL.
The terror group is widely reported to be financed by Saudi Arabia and partially trained and protected by American forces in Syria to support the terror campaign against the Syrian government and ordinary citizens.