President Trump on Tuesday confirmed a plan was in the works to take out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2017 and that he was supportive of it, but that former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was opposed.
The president’s disclosure that an assassination operation was discussed came as part of a lengthy diatribe against Mattis, but it confirmed a piece of reporting from 2018 that Trump disputed at the time.
“I would’ve rather taken him out. I had him all set. Mattis didn’t want to do it. Mattis was a highly overrated general,” Trump said on “Fox & Friends.”
The president added that he did not regret the decision not to target Assad, saying he “could’ve lived either way.” The Syrian leader has overseen the deaths of scores of civilians amid a years-long civil war that has ravaged the country.
Journalist Bob Woodward reported in his 2018 book, “Fear,” that Trump urged Mattis that the U.S. should “f–king kill” Assad following an April 2017 chemical attack on civilians in Syria.
Mattis reportedly went along with the president’s demands during the phone call, but immediately told aides after hanging up that they would take a “much more measured” approach.
Trump was asked about the reporting at the time, and said the assassination of Assad was “never even discussed.”
“No, that was never even contemplated, nor would it be contemplated and it should not have been written about in the book,” Trump said in September 2018.
Trump on Tuesday criticized Mattis at length. Mattis resigned at the end of 2018 after Trump abruptly announced he was pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria, a decision he later reversed.
“To me, he was a terrible general. He was a bad leader, and he wasn’t doing the job with ISIS,” Trump said. “He was not doing the job in Syria or Iraq with respect to ISIS.”
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