McConnell breaks with Trump on Middle East, urges POTUS not to withdraw troops too soon

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed his disagreement with President Trump over reported plans to withdraw more U.S. troops from the Middle East.

The Kentucky Republican did not directly criticize Trump in a speech from the Senate floor on Monday, but he issued a clear warning that the move would “delight” America’s enemies and hurt allies. McConnell also predicted that only a “small minority” in Congress would back the reported plans.

“The last several days have brought renewed speculation about the prospect of rapidly withdrawing all U.S. Military forces from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan,” McConnell said Monday.

“Here in Congress, a small minority in both parties seem to think that it is in America’s power to unilaterally remove conflicts by simply walking away from them,” he added before going on to praise Trump for his accomplishments in the Middle East which have “strengthened America’s hand” while reducing risk and cost.


(Source: The Hill)

“The situation we face today is totally different than what we faced 10 years ago. We do not have hundreds of thousands of soldiers engaged in combat abroad,” McConnell continued.

He went on to argue that the U.S. is now playing a “limited but important role in defending American national security and against terrorists who would like nothing more than for the most powerful force of good in the world to simply pick up our ball and go home.”

“Our retreat would embolden the Taliban, especially the deadly Haqqani wing, and risk plunging Afghan women and girls back into what they experienced in the 1990s. It would hand a weakened and scattered al Qaeda a big propaganda victory and a renewed safe haven for plotting attacks against America. And it would be welcome news to Iran, which has long provided arms and support to the Taliban and explicitly seeks our retreat from the Middle East,” he said.

“A disorganized retreat would jeopardize the track record of major successes this Administration has worked hard to compile,” McConnell argued.

Reports have circulated that the current 4,500 to 5,000 troops in Afghanistan and about 3,000 in Iraq would be reduced to just 2,500 in each country by January 15, days before the inauguration of the next president, be that Democrat Joe Biden or Trump. The president has frequently vowed to stop the “endless wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq.

McConnell objected, contending that “a rapid withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight the people who wish us harm.”

“Last year, 70 senators — a bipartisan supermajority — voted for an amendment I authored… [that] cautioned that precipitous withdrawal would create vacuums that Iran, Russia and the terrorists would be delighted to fill,” he said.

“There is no American who does not wish the war in Afghanistan against terrorists and their enablers had already been conclusively won. But that does not change the actual choice before us now,” the GOP leader emphasized.

He warned that the plan to draw down U.S. troops could prove to be a “humiliating” moment for the country.

“The consequences of a premature American exit would likely be even worse than President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, which fueled the rise of ISIS and a new round of global terrorism. It would be reminiscent of the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975,” McConnell said.

Some lawmakers have expressed their support of Trump’s reported plans, calling for troops to be brought home.

Many others side with McConnell, at a critical time as the president ousted former Defense Secretary Mark Esper earlier this month, replacing him with Christopher Miller as acting Pentagon chief.

“The concern would be it would turn into a Saigon-type of situation where it would fall very quickly and then our ability to conduct operations against terrorist elements in the region could be compromised,” Senate Intelligence Committee chair Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said in an interview. “That’s my primary concern right now.”

“You can’t simply unilaterally draw down troops,” Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said. “I think it’s a serious mistake to unilaterally walk away.”

A “premature U.S. withdrawal would not only jeopardize the Afghan government’s ability to negotiate, but would endanger U.S. counterterrorism interests,” Texas Rep. Michael McCaul said in a statement.

But in a letter last week, Miller declared that “it’s time to come home,” though he also said that U.S. troops are not done fighting.

“This war isn’t over. We are on the verge of defeating Al Qaida and its associates, but we must avoid our past strategic error of failing to see the fight through to the finish. Indeed, this fight has been long, our sacrifices have been enormous, and many are weary of war – I’m one of them,” Miller wrote.

“All wars must end,” he added. “Ending wars requires compromise and partnership. We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it’s time to come home.”

**Update: President Trump authorized the reduction of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq:

https://twitter.com/Breaking911/status/1328782944769552385

Frieda Powers

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