Gen. Joseph Votel, the top US commander for the Middle East and Central Asia is embarking on what should be a two-week farewell tour as he prepares to step down after a nearly 40-year career.
But as head of US Central Command, he leaves under a different commander in chief than when he began the job, and after controversial orders from the White House to withdraw troops from Syria and begin withdrawing forces from Afghanistan.
Votel took the helm at Centcom under President Obama as the US was urgently ramping up the war against ISIS and struggling to keep the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan in check. It came at a time when Iraqi security forces were failing to fight on their own, abandoning key areas like Ramadi, and there was serious concern even Baghdad could fall.
Votel now leaves office as President Donald Trump prepares to announce a victory of sorts. The administration is expected to announce in the coming days that US-backed fighters and US-led airstrikes have succeeded in driving ISIS out of all the territory in Syria it once controlled. This now leaves Votel to carry out the President’s order to remove more than 2,000 troops from Syria, even as concern grows that the SDF fighters the US has backed in northern Syria could get attacked by Turkish forces that see them as tied to Kurdish terrorist organizations.