US Senate rejects Donald Trump’s rushed withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan

Senate leader Mitch McConnell warned of “the danger of a precipitous withdrawal from either conflict”

epa07334661 Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell (R) walks to the Senate floor for a procedural vote on his amendment to a Middle East policy bill, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 31 January 2019. The Senate voted to advance the bill, which opposes US President Donald J. Trump's withdrawal of military forces from Syria and Afghanistan.  EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS
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In a vote that will likely further complicate US withdrawal plans from both Syria and Afghanistan, the Senate voted on Thursday to advance a bill that pushes back against any precipitous pull-out.

The vote coming 48 hours after Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell proposed an amendment that rejects President Donald Trump’s plans to withdraw 7,000 troops from Afghanistan and 2,000 from Syria. The amendment is attached to the bill Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act that the Congress is debating.

On Thursday, a majority from the US Senate voted in favour of Mr McConnell’s amendment and in rebuking the White House policy. The vote was bipartisan with 68 in favour and 23 against, offering more than two thirds support, with majority coming from Mr Trump’s own Republican party.

Mr McConnell had warned of “the danger of a precipitous withdrawal from either conflict”, reminding of the terrorist attack of September 11, and where Al Qaeda used Afghanistan as a safe haven to plan an attack against the United States. The Senate leader called 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,” he said.

But the amendment that passed on Thursday is non-binding and Mr Trump would not be bound by it. Still experts saw it as a signal to the Trump administration that could affect the shape and the timeline of its exit from these conflicts.

“Senator McConnell’s amendment is a shot across the bow of the Trump team from the majority of the Republican party that favours active US engagement in global affairs,” Nicholas Heras, a senior fellow at Center for New American Security, told The National. “It is Mr McConnell’s way of telling President Trump that Syria is an important item on the GOP’s foreign policy agenda” he added.

How would it affect Mr Trump’s vague plans on Syria? “It could keep US engagement in Syria for the rest of Mr Trump’s term in office, even if by other means than the US military” Mr Heras argued. Leaving a counterterrorism force is one of the options being explored in Syria.

Since announcing withdrawal on December 19, and following the resignation of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis and former anti-ISIS envoy Brett McGurk, Washington has been consulting with partners but has yet to lay out a clear plan for a pull-out from both Afghanistan and Syria.