Ex-envoy Brett McGurk: Trump's "total reversal" of U.S. policy on Syria forced resignation

Former ISIS envoy: Trump's "total reversal" forced resignation

Brett McGurk, the former special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS who stepped down in December, said he had no choice but to resign after President Trump's sudden and unexpected order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

In his first television interview since resigning, McGurk said "ISIS is not defeated," despite claims to the contrary by officials in the Trump administration. 

"I've probably traveled to Syria more than any other American civilian official," he said. "I know our people in Syria. My heart is broken," he added, extending condolences to the families of four Americans killed in a suicide bombing last week, the deadliest incident for U.S. forces in Syria since the civil war began.

McGurk, a longtime diplomat who was appointed special envoy by President Barack Obama in 2015, criticized Mr. Trump's decision to order the withdrawal of U.S. troops, which he cast as a "total reversal" of years of U.S. policy in the region.

"On instructions from the White House, we were telling [U.S. partners on the ground that] we'd stay in Syria until we completed the enduring defeat of ISIS, not just the physical territory. We'd stay in Syria until the Iranians left Syria, and also until there was a irreversible political progress in Geneva to end the ultimate civil war," McGurk said. "And it was the total reversal of our policy that made it — I just, I concluded I could not be effective in carrying out those new instructions."

McGurk said a "sustainable" plan had been in place to defeat ISIS and begin serious negotiations with parties in Syria, including Russia. 

"The minute you announce to the world that you're leaving, a vacuum opens up and all the other powers in the region start making different calculations," he said.

Still, given Mr. Trump's announcement, he said the world "has to really accept some hard truths — I think, number one, we are leaving. The president has made that clear — we are leaving." 

McGurk said the top mission for troops should be to get out of the country safely.

"Withdrawing under pressure from a combat zone is one of the most difficult military maneuvers we can ask our people to do," he said.