World / Politics

GOP's Mitch McConnell bucks Trump, warning against 'precipitous withdrawal' from Syria and Afghanistan

Bloomberg

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a rare break with President Donald Trump and proposed a measure urging the U.S. to continue the fight against Islamic State and al-Qaida in Syria and Afghanistan and avoid any “precipitous withdrawal.”

McConnell said an amendment he plans to offer to legislation that would impose new sanctions on Syria and that it would reassure U.S. allies in both countries.

“It would recognize the danger of a precipitous withdrawal from either conflict, and highlight the need for diplomatic engagement and political solutions to the underlying conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan,’ he said on the Senate floor. “We have seen the costs of a precipitous withdrawal before in Iraq. And in Afghanistan, we have seen the downsides of telling the enemy they can just wait us out.”

While Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters Tuesday that “99.5 percent-plus of the ISIS-controlled territory has been returned to the Syrians,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned that Islamic State still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria and thousands of supporters around the world.

Any reduction in pressure will be used by Islamic State “to strengthen its clandestine presence and accelerate rebuilding key capabilities, such as media production and external operations,” Coats said Tuesday in the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment from intelligence agencies. “ISIS very likely will continue to pursue external attacks from Iraq and Syria against regional and Western adversaries, including the United States.”

McConnell said his amendment would “urge continued commitment from the U.S. military and our partners until we have set the conditions for the enduring defeat of these vile terrorists.”

“While it is tempting to retreat to the comfort and security of our own shores, there is still a great deal of work to be done,” he said. “And we know that left untended, these conflicts will reverberate in our own cities.”

Trump’s announcement last year that he would remove troops from Syria led to the departure of Defense Secretary James Mattis and dismay from hawks in his own party in Congress. But the withdrawals have been cheered by Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has pushed for pulling out of both countries and spending the money in the United States instead.