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Mattis faces criticism after comments in Khashoggi

AFP  |  Washington 

Jim Mattis, who has enjoyed a level of bipartisan support rarely seen in Washington, is facing mounting public criticism amid the fallout from the slaying of Saudi

The fresh scrutiny of Mattis, often portrayed at home and abroad as a trusted steward of values during the turbulent times of Donald Trump, comes on the heels of his implementation of a controversial military order to place troops on the US-border, a move critics slammed as a political stunt.

The most vocal attack on the former Marine general came from a member of Trump's own this week, when Senator blasted the for refusing to directly link Saudi Crown to Khashoggi's murder at the kingdom's in October.

Mattis has repeatedly condemned the killing and called for those responsible to be held to account, but insisted he had seen "no smoking gun" connecting Mohammed to the murder.

"You have to be wilfully blind" not to conclude the murder was orchestrated by people under Mohammed's command, Graham said, following a briefing to several senators by CIA

"There's not a smoking gun, but a smoking saw," Graham added, referring to the reported grisly detail that an dismembered Khashoggi's body with a bone saw.

Graham is a firebrand in politics, and his bouts of indignation should be viewed through the prism of his own ambition. Initially a fierce Trump opponent, he converted to a staunch ally, and observers say he is angling for a top posting in the administration.

Still, Graham was not alone in his upbraiding. Democratic Senator said Mattis and Pompeo have tried to "push aside" the question of

Prince Mohammed's involvement and said that when the two men spoke to senators last week they had sought to mislead lawmakers.

They "knew that there was no way this murder happened without the consent and direction of MBS," Murphy told MSNBC, using the abbreviation for Prince Mohammed.

And Republican Bob Corker, who leads the Foreign Relations Committee, came to a similar conclusion, saying a jury would convict the "in less than 30 minutes."

On Wednesday, Mattis said Graham has "the right to his own opinion" and reiterated his careful interpretation of the intel on Khashoggi's murder.

"If I say something, I need the evidence," Mattis said.

"We are continuing to review. I am quite satisfied we will find more evidence of what happened. I just don't know what it is going to be or who will be implicated, but we will follow it as far as we can."

Mattis was also thrust into the spotlight last month in the run-up to the midterm elections, as Trump repeatedly attacked "caravans" of Central American migrants headed for the US border.

The ordered a deployment of thousands of active-duty troops to beef up the frontier. Critics assailed the move as a costly political stunt to mobilise Trump's conservative base.

Kelly Magsamen, a for both Republican and Democratic presidents, termed the deployment "a craven political stunt by Trump ahead of the US midterm elections."

Magsamen, writing on the Defence One website, said that Mattis should either explain his support for the move or quit if he does not believe it warranted.

But Mattis defended the decision, saying it was not political and that the soldiers on the border are mainly providing much-needed logistical support: "We don't do stunts in this department," he said.

The deployment of approximately 5,600 troops is Mattis's largest in his nearly two years at the Pentagon, and he this week approved a request from the to extend the mission through January 2019.

has sought to distance Prince Mohammed from the murder and has received unbending support from Trump, who sees as a vital security partner in the and a key and buyer of US arms.

But US lawmakers have grown increasingly leery about American support for the Saudi-led military campaign in

A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced a resolution that, if approved, would say the "has a high level of confidence" Prince Mohammed was "complicit" in Khashoggi's killing, and would assail for its role in Yemen's humanitarian crisis.

The could also vote on a separate measure next week to force the US to end its military support to the Saudi-led coalition in

Mattis's cautious words come at a sensitive time. He must tread a fine line with as he publicly and privately pushes to negotiate for a peace settlement with Houthi rebels in

For his part, Trump has said "maybe he did and maybe he didn't" when asked if the knew about the plot to kill

Graham suggested Mattis and Pompeo were being vague in their intelligence assessments to please Trump.

"The reason they don't draw the conclusion that he's complicit is because the administration doesn't want to go down that road, not because there's not evidence to suggest he's complicit," Graham said.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, December 07 2018. 10:00 IST