'I had shot to take out Assad': Trump claims he was close to killing Syrian leader but Mattis stopped him

US president’s claims contradict 2018 denial that moves to ‘assassinate’ Assad were ‘never even discussed’

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 15 September 2020 10:23 EDT
Trump says he wanted to 'take out' Assad but Mattis stopped him

Donald Trump has claimed that he supported “taking out” Syrian president Bashar al-Assad following chemical weapons attacks but was stopped by his previous Defense Secretary James Mattis.

His claims on Fox & Friends on Tuesday appear to confirm reporting in journalist Bob Woodward’s 2018 book Fear: Trump in the White House, which the president had emphatically denied after its publication.

During White House briefing on 5 September 2018, the US president said that suggestions that he supported “the assassination" of president Assad were “never even discussed.”

“Not at all. No, the book is fiction,” he told reporters. “I heard somewhere where they said the assassination of president Assad by the United States. Never even discussed. The book is total fiction, just like he wrote in the past about other presidents.”

He added: “You look at what he said about president Bush, what he said about president Obama. Big, scandalous thing. Big – it lasts for about a day. No, that was never even contemplated, nor would it be contemplated. And it should not have been written about in the book. It’s just more fiction. The book is total fiction.”

Two years later, he told Fox & Friends that he “would’ve rather taken him out.”

“I had him all set,” the president said. "Mattis didn’t want to do it. Mattis was a highly overrated general."

Asked whether he regrets halting efforts to kill president Assad, and whether his decision was motivated by Russian military support for Syria, Trump said:“No, I don’t regret that. I could’ve lived either way with that. But I had a shot to take him out if I wanted, and Mattis was against it. Mattis was against most of that stuff."

Mr Woodward’s 2018 book reported that the president sought to “f****** kill” the Syrian leader leader following reports of a 2017 chemical weapons attack on Syrian residents.

Over the following months, the president threatened retaliation and publicly urged president Assad and his allies in Russia and Iran to end assaults in Idlib amid a protracted military campaign in the war-torn country.

On Tuesday, the president repeatedly criticised his previous defense secretary, who resigned in 2018 following the president’s decision to pull US forces out of Syria.

"To me, he was a terrible general. He was a bad leader, and he wasn't doing the job with Isis," the president said. "I don't say he is a good American or a bad American, I just say he didn't do a good job."

This year, the retired Marine general warned that the president is Constitutional threat and has condemned the use of force against protesters outside the White House in June before the president’s walk to a nearby church to make an appearance holding a bible, a move that General Mattis called an “abuse of executive authority."

“Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens – much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside,” he said in a statement to The Atlantic.

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