Trump says he wanted to kill Syrian President Bashar Assad but Mattis stopped him before he could 'take him out'

US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 15, 2020.Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
  • President Donald Trump said on "Fox & Friends" on Tuesday that he wanted to kill Syrian President Bashar Assad after a deadly April 2017 chemical-weapons attack in the country.
  • "I would've rather taken him out. I had him all set," Trump said, adding that the plan didn't move forward because then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis objected.
  • Reports that Trump had ordered the killing of Assad only to be stopped by Mattis surfaced in late 2018, but at that time the president dismissed them as "fiction."

President Donald Trump said on "Fox & Friends" on Tuesday that he wanted to "take out" Syrian President Bashar Assad after a brutal 2017 chemical attack in Syria but Jim Mattis, then his secretary of defense, objected.

"I would've rather taken him out. I had him all set. Mattis didn't want to do it," Trump said Tuesday, calling Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, "highly overrated." He said Mattis, who commands tremendous respect among US troops but has frustrated more than one US president, was a "terrible general" and a "bad leader."

"I had a shot to take him out if I wanted, and Mattis was against it," Trump said. "Mattis was against most of that stuff." Trump said he did not regret sparing the Syrian leader, though. He said he "could've lived either way with that."
Rather than assassinate Assad for his forces' role in the horrific April 4, 2017, chemical attack in the town of Khan Shaykhun in Syria's Idlib province that killed 89 people and injured more than 500 others, the US hit Shayrat Air Base, believed to be the source of the attack, with 59 cruise missiles. The chemical attack is considered the deadliest of Syria's civil war since the 2013 attack in Ghouta.

In response to another deadly chemical attack in Syria about a year later, the US, together with France and the UK, used ships and aircraft to conduct strikes on sites believed to support Syria's chemical-warfare operations.

The president's acknowledgment Tuesday supports reporting from 2018 that Trump disputed at the time as "fiction."

The veteran journalist Bob Woodward reported in his book "Fear" that Trump had told Mattis the US should "f---ing kill" Assad. Mattis was said to have acknowledged the president's demands but told aides after hanging up the phone that the US response would be "much more measured."

Trump denied Woodward's reporting, saying the events presented in the book never happened. "The book is fiction," he said, stating that killing Assad was"never even discussed." "No, that was never even contemplated, nor would it be contemplated, and it should not have been written about in the book," Trump said.

Lately, the Trump administration has been fighting a series of troubling new allegations in Woodward's latest book, "Rage," including that he knowingly misled the American public about the threat posed by the novel coronavirus.