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US Defence Secretary Mattis quits after clashing with Trump on policies

WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly said he was quitting after falling out with President Donald Trump over his foreign policies, one day after Trump rebuffed top advisers and decided to pull all US troops out of Syria. Mattis announced plans to resign after a face-to-face meeting with Trump in which they aired their differences, a senior White House official said.

“Because you have a right to 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 said in his resignation letter, released by the Pentagon.

A US official said that Mattis’ departure had not been forced by Trump. Trump announced on Wednesday that U.S. troops in Syria would be withdrawn, a decision that upended American policy in the region. Officials said the president was considering a substantial U.S. pullout from the 17-year-long conflict in Afghanistan.

Mattis, a retired Marine general whose embrace of NATO and America`s traditional alliances often put him at odds with Trump, had opposed the decision on Syria, officials said. One official added it was a contributing factor to his resignation.

The news is certain to shock U.S. military allies, already bewildered by what they see as Trump`s unpredictable, go-it-alone approach to global security, and raises questions about whether Mattis` successor will be as steadfast about traditional treaty commitments, including to NATO. When Mattis interviewed with Trump for the job in 2016, he split with president-elect on a host of issues, including on NATO and the use of torture. Trump ultimately deferred to Mattis, who opposed the practice, signalling that he could be persuaded by his advisers.

But as time grew, Trump increasingly acted on his own instincts on a host of national security issues, choosing an “America First” agenda that contradicted Mattis` core beliefs.

Trump had also rebuffed Mattis` top pick to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, choosing instead Army General Mark Milley. Mattis supported Milley but had favoured Air Force General David Goldfein. His letter indicated that he disagreed with Trump`s isolationist policies, writing that it was his belief the United States needed to maintain strong alliances and show allies respect.

Trump has withdrawn the United States from several international agreements since taking office in January 2017. The Mattis resignation letter also said that he believed the United States “must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours.” He identified Russia and China as countries that “want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model.”