President Trump says Mattis' replacement will start on Jan. 1

WASHINGTON, Dec 23 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday said he was replacing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis two months earlier than had been expected, a move officials said was driven by Trump's anger at Mattis' resignation letter and its rebuke of his foreign policy.

On Thursday, Mattis had abruptly said he was quitting, effective Feb. 28, after falling out with Trump over his foreign policy, including surprise decisions to withdraw all troops from Syria and start planning a drawdown in Afghanistan.

Trump has come under withering criticism from fellow Republicans and international allies in recent days over his moves to wind down U.S. involvement in Syria and Afghanistan, against the advice of his top aides and U.S. commanders.

RELATED: 19 memorable quotes from James 'Mad Dog' Mattis

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19 memorable quotes from James 'Mad Dog' Mattis
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19 memorable quotes from James 'Mad Dog' Mattis

"You cannot allow any of your people to avoid the brutal facts. If they start living in a dream world, it's going to be bad."

Mattis has often talked to Marine leaders about staying sharp.

The "dream world" he mentioned is a reference to a complacent attitude, and it's one that can cost lives if troops aren't vigilant.

(Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

"If in order to kill the enemy you have to kill an innocent, don't take the shot. Don't create more enemies than you take out by some immoral act."

As a coauthor of the military's counterinsurgency manual (with retired Army Gen. David Petraeus), Mattis has often spoken about following the rules of engagement and being disciplined against a ruthless enemy.

REUTERS/Mike Blake 

"I come in peace. I didn't bring artillery. But I'm pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you f*** with me, I'll kill you all."

After the initial Iraq invasion, "Chaos" (his radio call sign) sent home his tanks and artillery and used the "carrot and the stick" with Iraqi tribal leaders.

 (Photo by Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

"The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some a--holes in the world that just need to be shot. There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim."

Addressing his Marines at an air base in Iraq, he tried to motivate them to stay sharp and continue the mission.

He ended the speech, telling them in Patton-esque fashion, "I feel sorry for every son of a b**** that doesn't get to serve with you."

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

"Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet."

One of his "words to live by" for his Marines in Iraq, which was a call for his troops to remain vigilant and never let their guard down even in the company of those who seem friendly.

In a country where insurgents would blend into the local populace with ease, it was good advice.

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

"We've backed off in good faith to try and give you a chance to straighten this problem out. But I am going to beg with you for a minute. I'm going to plead with you, do not cross us. Because if you do, the survivors will write about what we do here for 10,000 years."

Mattis demonstrates that he is willing to extend an olive branch to those on the fence — while carrying the weight of Marine firepower if that doesn't work out.

This quote is often shared among Mattis fans for its almost Spartan-like delivery.

 ( CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)

"I don't lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word."

The general has always been confident in his abilities and that of his Marines.

He led the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade into Afghanistan in 2001 and the 1st Marine Division into Iraq in 2003, and he led an operation into Fallujah in 2004 dubbed "Operation Vigilant Resolve." He also helped to plan the later "Operation Phantom Fury."

His success in battle and strategic genius has earned him an almost godlike status among Marines.

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

 "A country that armed Stalin to defeat Hitler can certainly work alongside enemies of Al Qaeda to defeat Al Qaeda."

The general is a student of history and an avid reader.

He often stresses the importance of education and training on building effective future leaders.

 (Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for DIRECTV)

"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like brawling."

Some Mattis quotes don't come without a degree of controversy, including this one.

Mattis said this while speaking about his time on the ground in Afghanistan, but he was later counseled by his boss, Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee, who said "he should have chosen his words more carefully."

REUTERS/Gary Cameron 

 "In this age, I don't care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony — even vicious harmony — on the battlefield based on trust across service lines, across coalition and national lines, and across civilian/military lines, you need to go home, because your leadership is obsolete. We have got to have officers who can create harmony across all those lines."

Mattis wants educated leaders who can both be book smart and be able to get the job done.

REUTERS/Jim Hollander CLH/

"Find the enemy that wants to end this experiment (in American democracy) and kill every one of them until they're so sick of the killing that they leave us and our freedoms intact."

Mattis believes the battlefield is better off being far from American shores.

(Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

 

"Treachery has existed as long as there's been warfare, and there's always been a few people that you couldn't trust."

In places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, alliances can often shift quickly.

Mattis spoke with Congress on this point after a series of so-called green-on-blue attacks that left military leaders struggling to find a solution.

 (Photo credit should read ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images)

 "Fight with a happy heart."

Before heading into Iraq in 2003, all Marines of the 1st Marine Division received a letter from General Mattis.

In the letter, he spoke candidly to his troops, telling them "we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam's oppression."

AFP PHOTO/ Chris KLEPONIS (Photo credit should read CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)

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The exit of Mattis, highly regarded by Republicans and Democrats alike, added to their concern over what they see as Trump's unpredictable, go-it-alone approach to global security.

In announcing his resignation, Mattis distributed a candid resignation letter addressed to Trump that laid bare the growing divide between them, and implicitly criticized Trump for failing to value America's closest allies, who fought alongside the United States in both conflicts. Mattis said that Trump deserved to have a defense secretary more aligned with his views.

Trump made his displeasure with Mattis clear on Saturday night by tweeting that he had been "ingloriously fired" by former President Barack Obama and he had given Mattis a second chance. Obama removed Mattis as head of U.S. Central Command in 2013.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted that Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan would take over for Mattis on an acting basis on Jan. 1. In a tweet, Trump called the former Boeing Co executive "very talented."

In his letter, Mattis had said he would step down at the end of February to allow for a successor to be confirmed and attend Congressional hearings and a key NATO meeting.

A senior White House official said that Trump was irked by the attention given to Mattis' resignation letter.

"He just wants a smooth, more quick transition and felt that dragging it out for a couple of months is not good," the official said, on condition of anonymity.

The official said Trump was expected to pick a nominee for defense secretary over the next couple of weeks.

Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White said Mattis would work with Shanahan and Pentagon leadership to ensure the department "remains focused on the defense of the nation during this transition."

Shanahan, in his job as deputy defense secretary, has largely focused on internal Pentagon reform and issues like the creation of a Space Force, a project championed by Trump but which has met resistance from lawmakers and parts of the Pentagon.

A senior administration official told Reuters that Shanahan "has a deep-seated understanding of military operations, and global security affairs, and importantly, has the breadth of large-scale business management experience that will enable him to effectively oversee the Defense Department."

 

'SLOW' SYRIA PULLOUT

In a shock announcement on Wednesday, Trump said he was withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, citing its cost both in terms of lives of U.S. military and financially. A day later, U.S. officials told Reuters the United States was planning on pulling about half of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Mattis, a retired Marine general whose embrace of NATO and America's traditional alliances often put him at odds with Trump, had advised against the Syria withdrawal - one of the factors in his resignation.

On Sunday, Trump said he had spoken with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan about a "slow and highly coordinated" withdrawal, suggesting that he might slow down the process after the barrage of criticism.

"We discussed ISIS, our mutual involvement in Syria, and the slow and highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area," Trump said in a tweet.

A U.S military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the withdrawal would be "safe, professional and deliberate" but was not aware of any new guidance from the White House.

A plan on the pullout is expected to be presented by commanders to the Pentagon some time this week, the official said.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday he deeply regretted Trump's Syria decision.

The plan has also prompted unusually sharp criticism of Trump from some of his fellow Republicans.

Senator Bob Corker, the influential Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was "saddened" by Trump's withdrawal decision.

"I think he knows he made a mistake," Corker, who is retiring, said on CNN. "The president's tendencies are to dig in and double-down if he knows he has done something that is probably incorrect." (Reporting by Idrees Ali and Steve Holland, additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Phil Stewart Editing by Mary Milliken, Phil Berlowitz and Rosalba O'Brien)

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