Top U.S. general disagrees with Trump over Syria troop pullout

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U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Joseph Votel speaks at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in Washington.

(CNN) The U.S. commander who has been leading the war against ISIS told CNN Friday that he disagreed with Donald Trump's decision to pull troops out of Syria and warned that the terror group was far from defeated, in a stark public break with the President.

Joseph Votel, the top American general in the Middle East, also said that the U.S.-backed forces on the ground in Syria were not ready to handle the threat of ISIS on their own.

"It would not have been my military advice at that particular time ... I would not have made that suggestion, frankly," Votel said of the troop withdrawal. "(The caliphate) 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."

Votel, speaking to CNN from Oman on Friday, revealed he would only have declared that ISIS had been defeated, as Trump did in December, if he was sure they no longer posed a threat.

"When I say, 'we have defeated them,' I want to ensure that means they do not have the capability to plot or direct attacks against the U.S. or our allies," Votel said. "They still have this very powerful ideology, so they can inspire."

The commander of U.S. Central Command had previously said that he "was not consulted" before Trump's controversial announcement late last year that the U.S. would rapidly withdraw its troops from the war-torn country.

Trump's announcement appalled U.S. lawmakers and triggered resignations, including that of Defense Secretary James Mattis and the senior State Department official in charge of the anti-ISIS campaign.

On Friday, Votel also said that the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) -- who launched an offensive to oust ISIS from its only remaining enclave in Syria last weekend -- could not defeat the terror group without continued American assistance.

"They still require our enablement and our assistance with this," Votel said, adding that the U.S. military was still in the midst of executing a "well-crafted military campaign."

"We want (ISIS) to be able to be controlled or addressed by the indigenous partners, whether that's the Iraqi security forces in Iraq, or the Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria, that when they are capable of handing this threat on their own, without our assistance, that will be another key criteria indicating to me that we have accomplished our mission of defeat of ISIS."

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