“I had a shot to take him (Assad) out if I wanted. And Mattis was against it. Mattis was against most of that stuff,” Trump said during a phone interview with Fox News on Tuesday.
“Mattis didn’t want to do it. Mattis was a highly overrated general, and I let him go,” he added. “I don’t regret that. I could have lived either way with that, you know, I considered him (Assad) certainly not a good person.”
The admission confirmed an account from a book that was published by The Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward in 2018. Trump at the time denied the assassination plan and claimed, “That was never even contemplated.”
Woodward reported in his book “Fear: Trump in the White House” that the US president had said American forces had to “go in” and “kill” Assad after the alleged gas attack in April 2017.
Woodward — famous for uncovering the 1970s Watergate scandal that brought down former President Richard Nixon — wrote that Mattis told Trump he would “get right on it” in an apparent attempt to pacify the president but returned with plans for a “more measured” response.
On April 4, 2017, an alleged sarin gas attack was reported in the town of Khan Shaykhun in Syria’s Idlib Province, purportedly killing more than 80 people. Western countries quickly blamed Damascus, with the US launching a missile attack against Shayrat Airbase in Syria’s Homs Province on April 7, 2017.
Washington claimed that the air field had been the origin of the chemical attack. Damascus, however, said the Khan Shaykhun incident was a fabrication to justify foreign intervention.
The Syrian government surrendered its stockpiles of chemical weapons in 2014 to a joint mission led by the United Nations (UN) and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversaw the destruction of the weaponry.
However, Western governments and their allies did not stop accusing Damascus of conducting chemical attacks.