Mattis sends last Christmas message to troops before resigning

Taliban walk as they celebrate ceasefire in Ghanikhel district of Nangarhar province Afghanistan

Taliban walk as they celebrate ceasefire in Ghanikhel district of Nangarhar province Afghanistan

Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the worldwide coalition combating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, resigned shortly after Mattis' decision.

"The execute order for Syria has been signed", the spokesperson told AFP, without providing further details.

Mattis' letter in particular emphasized the important role that US alliances play in USA national security.

"No one should assume that his service to his country will end", he said.

The situation has put the American generals in the awkward position of attempting to downplay the significance of a potential reduction in US troops in Afghanistan while American diplomats try to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban.

United States politicians and allies fear the pullout would further destabilise the already devastated region.

Mattis issued his resignation letter to President Donald Trump last week over foreign policy disagreements, following reports that the commander in chief would be withdrawing all military personnel from Syria.

On Thursday, Mattis submitted his resignation to Trump after the US President chose to withdraw all US troops from Syria.

Critics argue that the decision could undercut U.S. leverage in the region and undermine diplomatic efforts to the end the Syrian civil war, now in its eighth year.

Mr Trump's sudden decision also sparked turmoil within his administration, prompting the resignation of Mr Brett McGurk, the special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition.

Shanahan has never served in the military, but he was a top executive at Boeing Co. On Sunday, Trump announced that Mattis would be leaving the Pentagon on January 1, two months earlier than planned. He spent over three decades working for Boeing, including as vice-president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defence Systems, before moving to the Pentagon as deputy a year ago.

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