"It would not have been my military advice at that particular time," Votel told CNN of the plan to withdraw troops. Of course, the advice of US generals has brought the country 18 years of war with nothing to show for it except the Pentagon's expanded budget. The United States now spends about 40 percent more on the military per year than it did during the height of the Iraq War in 2005.
"I would not have made that suggestion, frankly," said Votel, referring to the decision to bring the troops back home to the US — a process that's evidently ongoing and also a source of mystery. Exits are notoriously dangerous military maneuvers, so the US has kept quiet on the precise number of forces it has maintained across Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some analysts have suggested that the military's consistent refusal over the years to be transparent about troop numbers in the above-mentioned countries has backfired, leaving them with little evidence for their assertions that Trump is killing a critical mission.
The US Constitution, of course, leaves final military decisions up to the president and not the generals, who are subordinate to the office.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 21, 2018
Trump has advocated withdrawing US personnel from costly foreign military engagements that lack clear objectives, but his administration has waffled on putting those desires into motion for about two years, variously saying Daesh has been defeated, calling out the need to prevent a Daesh resurgence and combat Iran and plainly admitting that there is nothing in Syria for the US military except "sand and death."
On Friday, Votel was back on the Pentagon's message that Daesh is not actually defeated, even though the terrorists' land holdings have been reduced from the size of Britain to less than a square mile. Daesh "still has leaders, still has fighters, it still has facilitators, it still has resources, so our continued military pressure is necessary to continue to go after that network," said Votel to CNN, as reported by The Hill.
In any event, achieving the top post in US Central Command (CENTCOM) is often seen as a boon for the careers of military officers. Former CENTCOM chiefs include retired generals David Petraeus and James Mattis, who would go on to become the head of the Central Intelligence Agency and US Secretary of Defense, respectively, after their stints as CENTCOM commanders.
Former UK Ambassador to Syria Peter Ford tells Sputnik not to read too much into Votel's comments but instead to observe the "continuing efforts of the media and political establishment to undermine Trump," who has expressed far more anti-interventionist sentiments than his predecessor both during his campaign and while in office.