Republican Senate leader says Trump’s Syria pull-out was a ‘grave mistake’

President’s plan ‘will leave the American people and homeland less safe, embolden our enemies, and weaken important alliances’, warns McConnell

Vincent Wood
Saturday 19 October 2019 17:51
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The intervention marks the most senior-level rebuttal of the president’s order for troops to leave the region
The intervention marks the most senior-level rebuttal of the president’s order for troops to leave the region

The US Senate’s most senior Republican has said Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria was a “grave strategic mistake”.

In a direct attack on the US president’s foreign policy, Mitch McConnell has warned the move “will leave the American people and homeland less safe, embolden our enemies, and weaken important alliances”.

The withdrawal earlier this month saw Turkish and Russian forces press into areas of Syria previously held by US troops and America’s Kurdish allies, and received criticism from across the political divide in the US.

The latest intervention is the most senior-level Republican rebuttal of the president’s order for troops to leave the region.

Writing in the Washington Post, Mr McConnell added: “Sadly, the recently announced pull-out risks repeating the Obama administration’s reckless withdrawal from Iraq, which facilitated the rise of the Islamic State in the first place.”

Thousands of Isis members and affiliates are reported to have escaped prisons and detainment camps in the days following the Turkish incursion into Syria – where they were previously guarded by Kurdish soldiers.

Mr McConnell’s attack, which does not mention the president by name and only refers to Mr Trump by his title once, is reported to have followed a phone call between the Senate majority leader and the vice president Mike Pence.

“The combination of a US pullback and the escalating Turkish-Kurdish hostilities is creating a strategic nightmare for our country”, Mr McConnell added. “Even if the five-day cease-fire announced Thursday holds, events of the past week have set back the United States’ campaign against the Islamic State and other terrorists.

“Unless halted, our retreat will invite the brutal Assad regime in Syria and its Iranian backers to expand their influence.

“And we are ignoring Russia’s efforts to leverage its increasingly dominant position in Syria to amass power and influence throughout the Middle East and beyond.”

The critique marks a rare divide between the Senate majority leader and the president – however, it is one that Mr McConnell had laid the groundwork for, through previous legislation that affirmed the importance of US intervention in the region.

Mr McConnell said: “In January, following indications that the president was considering withdrawing US forces from Syria and Afghanistan, I thought the Senate should reaffirm these crucial principles. Senators would have the opportunity to debate our interests and strategy in the Middle East.

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“The Senate stepped up. A bipartisan supermajority of 70 senators supported an amendment I wrote to emphasise these lessons. It stated our opposition to prematurely exiting Syria or Afghanistan, reemphasised the need for sustained US leadership to fight terrorists, and urged that we continue working alongside allies and local forces.”

“Unfortunately”, he added, “the administration’s recent steps in Syria do not reflect these crucial lessons”.

A fragile ceasefire continues to hold along the Turkish border following an agreement between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mr Pence in Ankara on Thursday to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from the north of Syria.

Turkey‘s defence ministry said on Saturday there had been 14 “provocative attacks” from Syria in the past 36 hours but said it was continuing to coordinate closely with the US.

And on Friday, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces accused Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies of shelling civilian areas.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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