President Trump says he "essentially" fired General Mattis

President Trump says he

But the retired Marine general actually resigned in protest over Trump's decision to pull US troops from Syria.

Mattis submitted his resignation on December 20 after a series of policy disagreements with Trump, including the president's decision to withdraw troops from Syria.

Later on Wednesday, Shanahan sat next to Trump at a Cabinet meeting, in a sign of the president's confidence. However, as Mattis' brutal letter made clear he was leaving of his own accord because Trump's worldview is so discordant with his own. The former Marine Corps general was one of several national security aides who had persuaded Trump that an ongoing military presence there was critical to defeating the Islamic State and other USA security interests.

The defence official said Shanahan would later Wednesday attend a cabinet meeting with Trump, the president's first of 2019.

The Pentagon has said he played a critical role in developing the strategy, which singled out China and Russian Federation as top threats, saying they wanted to "shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model".

Though Trump later added that he wished Mattis well in retirement, Mattis handed over the reigns of the Pentagon to Deputy Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan this week without the pomp and circumstance typical of departing secretaries of defence. Three days later, Trump said he was replacing Mattis with the second-ranking defense official, Pat Shanahan, on New Year's Day.

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"We have some great allies, but a lot of our allies were taking advantage of our taxpayers and our country", Trump said.

Trump then asked rhetorically "What's he done for me?"

One aide says Shanahan told the gathering that he's focused on the strategy written and implemented under Mattis that focuses on Russian Federation and China as "great power" competitors.

Shanahan, who had served as deputy to Mattis since July 2017, is a career business executive with no prior government or military experience.

In that context, Shanahan said the Pentagon leaders should remember, "China, China, China", according to one official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss internal defense meetings and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Trump also reportedly has a strained relationship with retired General John Kelly, his former chief of staff.

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