A confrontation in the Situation Room with President Trump and his most senior military commander has been leaked. President Trump’s recent announcement that he would be pulling troops out of Syria “very soon” has revealed a major source of tension between the president and his generals.
This week, Trump held a summit in his White House situation room on how to get US troops out of Syria but there has been an astonishing breach.
Chairman of Joint chief of Staff, Marine General Joseph Dunford, clashed over what to do about Syria with Dunford reprimanding the President- so Trump demanded an immediate pull-out.
Both Dunford and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis went head to head with Trump on pulling out of Syria in the Situation Room encounter.
Talks with the CIA were also leaked, which is bound to increase tensions in Washington over Syria.
The Mail Online reports:
Five officials brief the Associated Press on that happened as Gen Dunford told him his approach was ‘unproductive’ and demanded that he issue ‘specific instructions’ on how to proceed.
And the Washington Post detailed how Trump demanded of its head of drone operations – an official whose name is a secret – why operators had waited until a terrorist had left his family’s home before killing him.
The two leaks will serve to increase tensions in Washington over Syria.
Trump on Tuesday said ‘I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home,’ and later that day held the meeting in the situation room.
Closely guarded secret: The White House situation room – where Trump was photographed in September 2017 – is supposed to be sacrosanct but five officials brief the Associated Press on a confrontation between the President and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Trump’s desire for a rapid withdrawal faced unanimous opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community, all of which argued that keeping the 2,000 U.S. soldiers currently in Syria is key to ensuring the Islamic State does not reconstitute itself.
But as they huddled in the Situation Room, the president was vocal and vehement in insisting that the withdrawal be completed quickly if not immediately, according to five administration officials briefed on Tuesday’s White House meeting of Trump and his top aides.
The officials weren’t authorized to discuss internal deliberations and requested anonymity.
If those aides failed in obtaining their desired outcome, it may have been because a strategy that’s worked in the past – giving Trump an offer he can’t refuse – appears to have backfired.
Rather than offer Trump a menu of pullout plans, with varying timelines and options for withdrawing step-by-step, the team sought to frame it as a binary choice: Stay in Syria to ensure the Islamic State can’t regroup, or pull out completely.
Documents presented to the president included several pages of possibilities for staying in, but only a brief description of an option for full withdrawal that emphasized significant risks and downsides, including the likelihood that Iran and Russia would take advantage of a U.S. vacuum.
Ultimately, Trump chose that option anyway.
The president had opened the meeting with a tirade about U.S. intervention in Syria and the Middle East more broadly, repeating lines from public speeches in which he’s denounced previous administrations for ‘wasting’ $7 trillion in the region over the past 17 years.
What has the U.S. gotten for the money and American lives expended in Syria? ‘Nothing,’ Trump said over and over, according to the officials.
The intensity of Trump’s tone and demeanor raised eyebrows and unease among the top brass gathered to hash out a Syria plan with Trump, officials said: Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary James Mattis, CIA chief Mike Pompeo and acting Secretary of State John Sullivan.
At one point, Dunford spoke up, one official said, telling Trump that his approach was not productive and asked him to give the group specific instructions as to what he wanted.
Trump’s response was to demand an immediate withdrawal of all American troops and an end to all U.S. civilian stabilization programs designed to restore basic infrastructure to war-shattered Syrian communities.
Mattis countered, arguing that an immediate withdrawal could be catastrophic and was logistically impossible to pull off in any responsible way, without risking the return of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups in newly liberated territories, the officials said. Mattis floated a one-year withdrawal as an alternative.
Trump then relented – but only slightly, telling his aides they could have five or six months to complete the mission to destroy the Islamic State and then get out, according to the officials.
Trump also indicated that he did not want to hear in October that the military had been unable to fully defeat the Islamic State and had to remain in Syria for longer.
The president had spoken. But what to say about it publicly?
In a brief and vague statement released Wednesday, the White House said the U.S. role in Syria is coming to a ‘rapid end’ and emphasized that the U.S. was counting on other countries and the U.N. to deal with Syria’s future.
But it offered no specificity as to the timing of a U.S. withdrawal.
‘The president has actually been very good in not giving us a specific timeline,’ Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, said Thursday. ‘We’ve always thought that as we reach finale against ISIS in Syria, we’re going to adjust the level of our presence there. So in that sense, nothing has actually changed.’
Mattis said Friday that the military is talking with Kurdish partners and others in Syria to resolve questions over US support once the United States eventually withdraws from the war-torn country.
‘We are in consultation with our allies and partners right now, so we’ll work all this out,’ Mattis said when asked whether the US military is committed to supporting Syria’s Kurdish fighters.
Pentagon officials stressed that no formal order had been handed down to the military to alter course or start a withdrawal. Nonetheless, the officials said Trump was clear in his intent.
For Trump, any notion of a ‘timeline’ comes with significant political risk.
After all, he had regularly bashed Obama on the campaign trail for forecasting his military moves in advance.
In fact, Trump was so critical of Obama for putting an arbitrary deadline on the 2011 Iraq withdrawal that he dubbed Obama ‘the founder of ISIS,’ arguing that Obama had signaled to al-Qaeda sympathizers in Iraq that they need only wait the U.S. out.
The leak of the Situation Room showdown was matched by another leak of top-secret activity – this time talks with the CIA operative in charge of its drone strikes om his very first day in office.
The Washington Post revealed how Trump met three agency officials when he visited CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and was shown a feed from Syria, where Obama had limited CIA drones to surveillance flights.
He ordered them to arm CIA drones there and said, according to two former officials who spoke to the Washington Post: ‘If you can do it in ten days, get it done.’
Then he was shown a video of a previous strike in which a terrorist was killed after leaving his family home and responded by saying: ‘Why did you wait?’
Trump has been infuriated by leaks throughout his presidency and demanded action against leakers repeatedly.