KEY POINTS

  • Trump had earlier denied a report of the plot, saying it never even was contemplated
  • The plan was developed after Assad used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians in 2017
  • The Syrian civil war has turned into a proxy war between Iran and the Gulf states

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis nixed a plan supported by President Trump to assassinate Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2017, Trump said on Fox News Tuesday.

“I would've rather [have] taken him out. I had him all set. Mattis didn’t want to do it. Mattis was a highly overrated general," Trump said as a part of a diatribe against his former Pentagon chief. Trump added Mattis “didn’t do a good job.”

The president earlier had disputed a report of the plot in Bob Woodward’s “Fear.”

Woodward reported Mattis went along with Trump’s suggestion that Assad should be killed on a phone call following an April 2017 chemical attack on Syrian civilians but then told aides he had something else in mind.

At the time “Fear” was published, Trump denied the report.

“No, that was never even contemplated, nor would it be contemplated, and it should not have been written about in the book," Trump said in 2018.

Trump has long opposed U.S. troops in Syria and reduced their number last year, allowing Turkey and Russia to fill the vacuum and abandoning Syrian Kurds, who had been instrumental in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group.

The Syrian civil war has turned into a proxy war between Iran and the Gulf countries. Pro-Iran Hezbollah fighters and Russia are backing Assad while Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries and the West have sided with the Free Syrian Army. Overthrow of Assad would further isolate Iran in the region.

The Syrian civil war started in March 2011 as the so-called Arab Spring roiled North Africa and other Middle East nations. The conflict began following the worst drought in modern history, highlighting the economic disparities between the Alawite elite and Sunni majority. Protests turned into an armed insurgency after the military cracked down on peaceful demonstrations.

Millions of Syrians have fled across the borders into refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and elsewhere, creating a humanitarian crisis while others sought refuge in Europe.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denies that his forces have used torture Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denies that his forces have used torture Photo: AFP / LOUAI BESHARA