US Defense Secretary James Mattis said US withdrawal from Syria would allow Syrian President Bashar Assad to “take advantage” of a resulting power “vacuum.”

“In Syria, leaving the field before the special envoy Staffan de Mistura achieves success in advancing the Geneva political process we all signed for under the UN security council resolution would be a strategic blunder, undercutting our diplomats and giving the terrorists the opportunity to recover,” Mattis said speaking at a NATO defense minister meeting in Brussels on Friday.

He added the US withdrawal from Syria would leave a “vacuum” that President Assad and his allies would effectively use for restoring order in the country.

“Our military campaign in Syria continues,” Mattis said. “As the operations ultimately draw to a close, we must avoid leaving a vacuum in Syria that can be exploited by the Assad regime or its supporters.”

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