Mattis, Dunford, McGurk, Votel: America’s “Fantastic Four” of the Anti-ISIS war have left or are leaving office

The “fantastic four” of the anti-ISIS war have either already resigned or are soon leaving their posts as the US withdraws from Syria. This includes Defense Secretary James Mattis, Anti-ISIS envoy Brett McGurk, Dunford and Votel

Brett McGurk served as Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL at the U.S. Department of State. In this assignment, McGurk built a global coalition of 68 members which grew to 79 by the time he left in December 2019. His previous assignment was Deputy Special Presidential Envoy from September 2014 until November 2015. He resigned on December 22 in the wake of Trump’s Syria withdrawal decision. McGurk was scheduled to leave in early 2019. Syria envoy James Jeffrey replaced McGurk.

James Mattis was tapped by US President Donald Trump in December 2016 to serve as Defense Secretary. Mattis resigned on December 20, 2019 after Trump announced the Syria withdrawal. He presided over the war on ISIS that saw it defeated in Mosul in the summer of 2017 and driven from Raqqa in the fall of 2017. Throughout 2018 he was responsible for the crushing of ISIS during Operation Roundup that led to the battles around Hajin where ISIS was said to have lost 99% of its territory. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan replaced Mattis.

General Joseph Dunford took over as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in October 2015. He warned against complacency in defeating ISIS, warning it could rise again. In December 2015 he briefed Obama on how to defeat ISIS and presided over the plan to coordinate anti-ISIS plans in Iraq and Syria along with key figures such as Sean Macfarland and SOCOM chief Gen. Raymond Thomas. Dunford’s term officially ends in October 2019. In December 2018 Trump named Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to succeed Dunford.

General Joseph Votel was appointed head of CENTCOM in March 2016. He came on board at a key juncture in the ISIS war in the lead up to the Mosul offensive. He managed a more flexible strategy that Trump had encouraged, seeking to help Iraq stabilize as ISIS was defeated. He said the US was “advising, accompanying, assisting, enabling Iraqi forces all around that city [Mosul]. That means providing (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance).” He visited US forces in Tanf and in Syria and was keenly aware of the challenges in the country. Preparing to leave his post he told the US Senate he was not . consulted on the Syria withdrawal. “We are adjusting our military posture in Syria, planning and executing a deliberate, safe and professional withdrawal of personnel and equipment while preserving sufficient power in the region.” He will be replaced by Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr.

What they accomplished

These four men played a key role in the anti-ISIS role, particularly in the transition from the Obama administration the Trump administration. Under Obama the anti-ISIS Coalition had been constructed and begun to advise and assist, using the “by, with and through” strategy, as well as air power and special forces, to stop the ISIS advance. Then with the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga and the SDF in Syria, the US-led Coalition was able to push ISIS back.

An important piece looking at their role and various plans for taking Raqqa, by Turkey and the SDF, can be found at The Atlantic.

By the time Trump came into office the battle for Mosul had begun, but the war was far from over. By December 2018 ISIS had lost almost all of the territory it once had. This included territory the Syrian regime had re-taken as well. It was isolated in a few areas near the Euphrates rive and Syrian desert. The team of Dunford, Mattis, McGurk and Votel played a key role and appeared to work well together on the mission. They appeared to mostly agree about the role of the SDF and also the US posture in Syria in Iraq.

With them gone and the US withdrawing from Syria there is a very real end to this conflict and a new phase about to begin.

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