‘Gravely concerned’: Mitch McConnell slams Trump’s Syria troop withdrawal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a rare rebuke of President Trump for his decision to take U.S. forces out of northern Syria.

The sudden pullout, which was quickly followed by Turkey launching a military offensive against Syrian Kurdish militias, gives the Islamic State an opening to rebound and would betray U.S. national security interests, the Kentucky Republican warned Monday.

“I am gravely concerned by recent events in Syria and by our nation’s apparent response thus far,” McConnell said in a statement. “Turkey is our NATO ally and has legitimate security concerns stemming from the conflict in Syria. But Turkey’s offensive against our Syrian Kurdish partners is jeopardizing years of hard-won progress in the fight against ISIS.”

Already, hundreds of people associated with ISIS escaped a Syrian camp where they were being held, as Turkish forces closed in on Kurdish-held areas and the Kurds reported seeing an ISIS flag propped up nearby.

Turkey has vowed to fight the Kurds, whom they regard as terrorists because of their links to an insurgency in the southern part of the country. The U.S. sees both Turkey and the Kurds as allies, leading to the complicated situation.

Allowing this fight to happen, McConnell said, will create a power vacuum that facilitated the rapid rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria five years ago.

“For years, the United States and our Syrian Kurdish partners have fought heroically to corner ISIS and destroy its physical caliphate. Abandoning this fight now and withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria would re-create the very conditions that we have worked hard to destroy and invite the resurgence of ISIS. And such a withdrawal would also create a broader power vacuum in Syria that will be exploited by Iran and Russia, a catastrophic outcome for the United States’ strategic interests,” McConnell said.

“Withdrawing American leadership from this pivotal region would not serve our nation’s short-, medium-, or long-term interests,” he added. “It would only make a troubling situation much worse, not only for regional partners such as Israel and Jordan but for the United States as well.”

Trump faces bipartisan criticism for the withdrawal, but he has some defenders, including Sen. Rand Paul, who declared victory over the “war caucus.”

Still, the backlash to Trump’s decision has been building as the weeklong effort by Turkey to seize territory controlled by Kurdish Syrians led to grisly reports and videos of Turkish-aligned forces executing Kurdish prisoners.

Soon after McConnell issued his statement and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House and Senate would craft a resolution to “overturn” Trump’s decision, the president announced the U.S. would increase sanctions of steel imports from Turkey and order sanctions against officials “contributing to Turkey’s destabilizing actions in northeast Syria.”


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