Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, submitted his resignation on Friday. McGurk was reportedly caught by surprise by President Trump’s abrupt decision Wednesday to remove 2,000 U.S. troops from their anti-ISIS mission in Syria, and subsequently stepped down one day after the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis. McGurk’s resignation takes effect Dec. 31.
McGurk, who served in the role since 2015, had already planned to step aside by February to teach at Stanford this spring, according to CBS News. However, just days before his resignation and Trump’s announcement to pull troops out of Syria, he made public comments that such a move would be detrimental to U.S. interests in the Middle East. On Dec. 11, McGurk gave reporters an update on the fight against ISIS, and said that at its peak the terrorist group controlled 100,000 square kilometers containing nearly 8 million people in Iraq and Syria.
“So the military objective – very clearly, the military objective is the enduring defeat of ISIS. And if we’ve learned one thing over the years, enduring defeat of a group like this means you can’t just defeat their physical space and then leave; you have to make sure the internal security forces are in place to ensure that those gains, security gains, are enduring. So, the enduring defeat of ISIS means not just the physical defeat, but make sure that we are training local security forces. So that will take some time,” McGurk said. “We have obviously learned a lot of lessons in the past, so we know that once the physical space is defeated, we can’t just pick up and leave. So we’re prepared to make sure that we do all we can to ensure this is enduring.”
In April, the administration suspended $200 million in stabilization funds allocated toward the Syria effort to defeat ISIS. Coalition partners tried to bridge the gap and ended up raising $95 million.
“Designed to create the conditions under which internally displaced people and refugees can return home, DoS-funded activities affected by the freeze include removing explosive remnants of war, restoring essential services such as water and electricity, and building the capacity of local governments to function in areas liberated from ISIS,” reads a Lead Inspector General report presented to Congress in June, which noted the Trump administration’s desire to take U.S. forces from Syria. “In addition to the March freezing of more than $200 million in DoS funds for stabilization efforts, the Administration appeared to be considering a near-term withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country following President Trump’s remarks in April about plans to leave Syria ‘very soon.’ Toward that end, the United States sought greater regional participation in the military and assistance efforts to stabilize territory liberated from ISIS in northwest Syria and was winding down funding for stabilization programs.”
The president made the announcement of the troop pullout in a series of Tweets on Dec. 20:
McGurk’s diplomatic experience in the Middle East is vast. He was previously the deputy assistant secretary of State for Iraq and Iran in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs from August 2013 until 2015. His credits also include appointments as senior advisor in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, special advisor to the National Security Council and former senior advisor to three U.S. ambassadors to Iraq. He was the director for Iraq and special assistant to the president and senior director for Iraq and Afghanistan during the administration of George W. Bush.
Former CIA Director John Brennan, who served from 2013 until January 2017, tweeted that McGurk, like Mattis, “believes in the principles, values, & partnerships that define America. Donald Trump does not.”
Brett worked extremely hard over many years to ensure the US fulfilled its leadership role in a critically important part of the world. Like Sec. Mattis, Brett believes in the principles, values, & partnerships that define America. Donald Trump does not. https://t.co/iiOwRlXA28
— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) December 22, 2018