Republican 'reassured' over troop pullout

US Special Forces soldiers at a front line outpost outside Manbij, Syria, last February. The Pentagon says it is considering plans for a "deliberate and controlled withdrawal" from Syria.
US Special Forces soldiers at a front line outpost outside Manbij, Syria, last February. The Pentagon says it is considering plans for a "deliberate and controlled withdrawal" from Syria.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Lindsey Graham says Trump is committed to defeating ISIS even as US forces leave Syria

WASHINGTON • A senior Republican US senator has said he emerged from a White House meeting with President Donald Trump reassured that Mr Trump is committed to defeating terror organisation ISIS, even as he plans to withdraw American troops from Syria.

Senator Lindsey Graham had earlier warned that removing all 2,000 US troops from Syria would hurt national security by allowing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to rebuild, betraying US-backed Kurdish fighters of the YPG militia battling remnants of the militant group, and enhancing Iran's ability to threaten Israel.

During a morning television interview on Sunday, Mr Graham said he would ask Mr Trump to slow down the troop withdrawal, which was announced last month and drew widespread criticism.

An ally of Mr Trump, although he has opposed some of his foreign policy decisions, Mr Graham was, however, more upbeat after the meeting. "We talked about Syria. He told me some things I didn't know that made me feel a lot better about where we're headed in Syria," Mr Graham, an influential voice on national security policy who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters at the White House later.

"We still have some differences, but I will tell you that the President is thinking long and hard about Syria - how to withdraw our forces but at the same time achieve our national security interests," Mr Graham said.

Last month, Mr Trump tweeted: "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency."

In the wake of the announcement, Mr Graham issued a scathing statement in which he denounced the decision as "an Obama-like mistake made by the Trump administration".

"While American patience in confronting radical Islam may wane, the radical Islamists' passion to kill Americans and our allies never wavers," Mr Graham said.

Asked if Mr Trump had agreed to any slowing down of the troop withdrawal, Mr Graham said: "I think the President's very committed to making sure that when we leave Syria, that ISIS is completely defeated."

He said Mr Trump's trip to Iraq last week was an eye-opener and he understood the need to "finish the job" with ISIS.

"I think the President has come up with a plan with his generals that makes sense to me," Mr Graham said.

He said later on Twitter that Mr Trump would make sure that any withdrawal from Syria "will be done in a fashion to ensure: 1)ISIS is permanently destroyed, 2)Iran doesn't fill in the back end, 3) And our Kurdish allies are protected."

The Pentagon has said it is considering plans for a "deliberate and controlled withdrawal".

One option, according to a person familiar with the discussions, is for a 120-day pullout period.

Mr Graham told reporters that Mr Trump was committed to making sure Turkey did not clash with the Kurdish YPG forces once American troops leave Syria, and was assuring the Nato ally that it would have a buffer zone in the region to help protect its own interests.

Turkey views the YPG as a branch of its own Kurdish separatist movement, and is threatening to launch an offensive against the group, igniting fears of significant civilian casualties.

US commanders planning the troop withdrawal are recommending that YPG fighters battling ISIS be allowed to keep US-supplied weapons, according to American officials. That proposal would likely anger Turkey, where Mr Trump's national security adviser John Bolton is set to hold talks this week.

Mr Trump decided on the Syria withdrawal in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ignoring the advice of top national security aides and without consulting lawmakers or US allies participating in anti-ISIS operations.

The decision prompted Defence Secretary James Mattis to resign.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2019, with the headline 'Republican 'reassured' over troop pullout'. Print Edition | Subscribe