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James Mattis: Pentagon in ‘best possible hands’ as he departs after Donald Trump clash

December 31, 2018

U.S. military forces and the Defense Department’s rank and file are “in the best possible hands” as Defense Secretary James Mattis prepares to hand over control of the Pentagon in the new year, the outgoing defense chief said in a farewell message on Monday.

The former four-star Marine Corps general will formally step down as defense secretary on Jan. 1, after submitting his resignation to the Trump White House late last month. Mr. Mattis had intended to stay on until February after resigning earlier this month amid policy clashes with the president, but Mr. Trump announced Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan would take over as interim defense secretary on an expedited schedule.

A noted military historian and scholar, Mr. Mattis opened his farewell note Monday with a quote from former President and Union commander Ulysses S. Grant.

“Let nothing which is transpiring change, hinder, or delay your military movements or plans,” Mr. Mattis wrote.

The former U.S. Central Command chief added he was confident that all members of the U.S. armed forces and the Defense Department would remain “undistracted from our sworn mission to support and defend the Constitution while protecting our way of life,” despite the political maelstrom surrounding his departure.

Mr. Mattis resigned in the wake of Mr. Trump’s controversial decision to withdraw all of the roughly 2,000 U.S. forces currently deployed to Syria and reportedly slash the 14,000-man American forces in Afghanistan by half in the coming year.

As he had said in his resignation letter to Mr. Trump, Mr. Mattis cited the need for the U.S. to recruit and rely on allied nations to ensure its security.

“Our department is proven to be at its best when the times are most difficult. So keep the faith in our country and hold fast, alongside our allies, aligned against our foes,” he wrote.

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