Defence Secretary James Mattis, who resigned citing irreconcilable policy differences with the president, will be replaced with his Deputy Patrick Shanahan, who will assume the office on January 1 next year, announced US President Donald Trump on Sunday.
"I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019. Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!" Trump tweeted.
I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019. Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2018
Mattis had resigned on Thursday, a day after Trump shocked the US establishment by pulling out of Syria. In a letter to Trump, Mattis had suggested his worldview, which favours traditional alliances and standing up to "malign actors," stands at odds with the President's.
"Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position," Mattis wrote. Moments before the Pentagon released Mattis's letter, Trump tweeted that his defense secretary would be retiring "with distinction, at the end of February."
"During Jim's tenure, tremendous progress has been made, especially with respect to the purchase of new fighting equipment," Trump said. "General Mattis was a great help to me in getting allies and other countries to pay their share of military obligations. A new Secretary of Defense will be named shortly. I greatly thank Jim for his service!"
According to reports, 68-year-old Mattis, a retired United States Marine Corps General, has gone to the White House on Thursday afternoon in a last attempt to convince Trump to keep US troops in Syria. He was rebuffed, and told the president that he was resigning as a result.
Separately on Thursday, there were reports the White House was also planning a sharp cut to troop numbers in Afghanistan. In his extraordinary resignation letter, Mattis told Trump he had "the right to have a Secretary of Defence whose views are better aligned with yours". Mattis' resignation letter, a Pentagon spokeswoman said was hand-delivered to the president.
In the letter, Mattis told Trump it was the "right time" for him to step down. "The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department's interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February," Mattis said.
The Pentagon chief did not mention if he was resigning specifically over the troop withdrawal decision, which has surprised US allies and even Republican lawmakers. Mattis was a great advocate of strong Indo-US defence relationship and New Delhi's growing role in the strategic Indo-Pacific amidst China flexing its muscles in the region. Earlier this month, Mattis hosted Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at the Pentagon for talks on India-US defence relationship.
"The US-India relationship is a natural partnership between the world's oldest and the world's largest democracy," Mattis had said then. He visited India in September for the inaugural India-US 2+2 Dialogue. In April this year, Mattis appealed to Congress to urgently provide India the national security waiver, saying imposing sanctions on it for buying the S-400 air defence missile system from Russia would only hit the US. Analysts say the withdrawal of troops will please US enemies by clearing the way for Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime, Russia and Iran. Mattis had warned that removing ground forces from the Middle Eastern country would be a "strategic blunder".
(With PTI inputs)