Top Republican senator, Trump aide signal Trump is reconsidering Syria withdrawal

Senior Republican senator Lindsey Graham said Trump was "frustrated" by the limited options available in Syria.
Senior Republican senator Lindsey Graham said Trump was "frustrated" by the limited options available in Syria.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham said US President Donald Trump reassured him about his plan to withdraw US troops from Syria and his commitment to defeating Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) during a White House meeting on Sunday (Dec 30). 

“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,” Graham told reporters outside the White House after the meeting.

“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.”

A Trump announcement?

Kellyanne Conway, a close Trump adviser, seemed to hint on Sunday that the president might be tweaking his withdrawal plans.

"In Iraq he had a closed-door meeting and he said watch what happens... Watch what happens because he's got plans and I won't get ahead of his announcement, but he did want me to convey that," she said on Fox News Sunday.

"This president is cleaning up the mess left by the last administration, which never took the threat of ISIS seriously." Trump's abrupt decision on Syria stunned regional players, US politicians of both parties and military leaders, who expressed surprise that such a major decision would be announced after apparently so little advance consultation, against the advice of his national security advisers - and on Twitter.

 
 
 

US Defence Secretary James Mattis resigned following the announcement, which came on the same day that US officials said Trump was also planning a significant drawdown in Afghanistan, with some reports suggesting as many as half of the 14,000 troops could leave.

Graham warned at the time that a reduction now of US forces in war-torn Afghanistan risked "paving the way toward a second 9/11."

A prominent critic of the move was retired US army general Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan.

On Sunday, he told ABC the dual drawdowns could seriously weaken US influence in the region.

"We have a tumultuous regime or region (in Syria) that now has a Russian presence which had been out for about 30 years... and now Russia is back. They're back in an influential way," he said.

"Iran has increased influence across the region now. If you pull American influence out, you're likely to have greater instability, and of course it will be much more difficult for the United States to try to push events in any direction." Similarly, he said, Trump's planned drawdown in Afghanistan could seriously undercut American leverage there.

"Just when we were starting to sit down with the Taleban, just as we were starting to begin negotiations, he basically traded away the biggest leverage point we have... Their incentives to try to cut a deal dropped dramatically," McChrystal added.