WASHINGTON: An acting defence chief, Patrick M. Shanahan, replaced US Secretary of Defence James Mattis at the Pentagon on Wednesday and pledged to work with President Donald Trump to carry out his vision.
The former defence secretary left his office on Monday night but Acting Secretary Shanahan took charge of his new office on Wednesday as Tuesday was a holiday. Mattis resigned on Dec 20 following a disagreement with Trump over his plan to withdraw American troops from Syria and Afghanistan.
Since the resignation, Trump has indicated flexibility on his withdrawal schedule but has also made it clear that he did not intend to keep US troops in “unending wars” for long.
Mattis had planned to stay as Pentagon chief through Feb 28 to ensure a smooth transition but Trump announced on Dec 23 that he will have a new secretary by Jan 1.
Although on Dec 20, Trump released a glowing tweet announcing that Mattis was retiring “with distinction” at the end of February, he later changed his mind.
Media reports claimed that Trump had not read the letter before dictating the tweet. In the letter, Mattis wrote a stinging rebuke of Trump over his neglect of allies and tolerance of authoritarianism.
Before dictating his second statement, which ordered Mattis to retire early, the president had complained about the media coverage the former secretary was receiving over the resignation.
Trump also said that Shanahan, Mattis’s deputy and a former Boeing executive, would serve as the acting defence secretary for “a long time.” Shanahan, he said, was “very talented” and “he will be great” in his new role.
In a brief statement issued by his office, Shanahan said he was looking forward “to working with President Trump to carry out his vision alongside strong leaders” of the US defence and military establishment.
In his departing message, Mattis asked US troops to “hold fast, alongside our allies, aligned against our foes”. He also urged them to remain “undistracted” from their mission to uphold the US Constitution.
The Pentagon said that in keeping with Mattis’s wishes, it was not holding a traditional farewell ceremony for him. Pentagon chiefs who leave office — even when forced out — are sent off with a ceremony that the US president also attends.
“Secretary Mattis prefers that today, like every day, the focus remain on the mission and those who carry it out,” Dana White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman, said.