US Senate leader challenges Trump on Syria withdrawal as Kurds seek delay

Mitch McConnell said the Syria and Afghanistan conflicts 'will reverberate in our own cities' if left untended

Mr McConnell is proposing an amendment to a bill which cautions against withdrawing from either Syria or Afghanistan. Bloomberg
Mr McConnell is proposing an amendment to a bill which cautions against withdrawing from either Syria or Afghanistan. Bloomberg

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the US Senate, is challenging president Donald Trump’s decision to pull out troops from Syria and Afghanistan through a proposed legislative amendment against a “precipitous withdrawal”.

Mr McConnell, speaking on Tuesday, said he is proposing an amendment to the bi-partisan backed bill ‘Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act’, which cautions against withdrawing from either Syria or Afghanistan.

Mr Trump has ordered the Pentagon to put plans for US troop pullout from both wars, against the advice of his top generals and former Secretary of Defence James Mattis.

Mr McConnell explained his rare move against the president as one that “would recognise the danger of a precipitous withdrawal of either conflict and highlight the need for diplomatic engagement and political solutions to the underlying conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan.”

“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…we know that left untended, these conflicts will reverberate in our own cities,” the Republican leader warned.

He refuted Mr Trump’s notion that ISIS is defeated in Syria, and said “Al Qaeda, ISIS, and their affiliates in Syria and Afghanistan continue to pose a serious threat to our nation.”

The bill will require majority support to pass in Congress, and two-thirds support to override a possible veto by Mr Trump.

Th US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats also contradicted Mr Trump’s assessment on ISIS. Testifying to Congress on Tuesday, he said “ISIS is intent on re-surging returned and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.”

While Mr Trump was planning a 30-day-withdrawal from Syria when he announced his decision last month, a more prolonged and co-ordinated pullout is now being planned. Kurdish leader and co-president of the Syrian Democratic Council Ilham Ahmed is in Washington to convince the administration to slow down the process.

“We are asking the Trump administration to slow down the withdrawal and instead implement a well-studied plan,” Ms Ahmed told The National during an event hosted by The Middle East Institute on Tuesday.

She said there has been no change in US military posture in Syria since Mr Trump announced his decision, and was firm in rejecting any Turkish military presence or Turkish led safe zone in the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) held areas.

However, the Syrian Kurdish leader said her group would be open to accepting UN monitors that won’t include a Turkish contingent. She characterised the 32km safe zone under consideration as a Turkish idea and not a US one reiterating that the SDF will reject it.

“We are capable of governing ourselves,” Ms Ahmed said while pointing to the model of Afrin as a failed example following the Turkish-backed Syrian rebels takeover of the area in 2018.

Updated: January 30, 2019 12:15 PM


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