Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell strongly opposed the Trump administration’s plan to remove more troops from the Middle East in a Senate floor speech on Monday, hours after CNN and other organizations reported that the Pentagon had issued a notice to commanders to begin planning a drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq by January 15.
McConnell warned that the removal of troops would weaken the United States, strengthen its enemies and wipe out the Trump administration’s victories in the Middle East over the past four years.
“We’re playing a limited – limited – but important role in defending American national security and American interests against terrorists who would like nothing more than for the most powerful force for good in the world to simply pick up our ball and go home,” McConnell said. “They would love that.”
US military commanders are anticipating that President Donald Trump will give a formal order as soon as this week to further withdraw US troops, according to two US officials. There are approximately 4,500 US troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 troops in Iraq, but the Pentagon has issued a so-called warning order to prepare for reducing the number of troops to 2,500 in both countries.
While the Pentagon appears ready to remove thousands of US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, the administration’s plan also suggests that Trump will fall short of fulfilling his core promise to withdraw all of them before he leaves office on January 20.
Republicans in Congress made clear on Monday that they objected to removing more troops from Afghanistan.
Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said “a residual force” must remain “for the foreseeable future,” warning that a “premature” withdrawal would “jeopardize” US security interests and Afghanistan’s peace negotiations.
McConnell said that the consequences of a “premature” exit “would likely be even worse than President (Barack) Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq back in 2011, which fueled the rise of ISIS and a new round of global terrorism.” McConnell said it would be “reminiscent” to the “humiliating” end of the Vietnam War.
The Senate Republican leader said that “abandoning our partners” would “embolden” the Taliban, be “welcome news” to Iran, and give al Qaeda a “big propaganda victory and a renewed safe haven for plotting attacks against America.”
“President Trump deserves major credit – major credit – for reducing US forces in Afghanistan to a sustainable level, scoring major victories against terrorists across the region and ensuring the Afghans themselves are at the front of the fight,” McConnell said. “That same successful approach should continue until the conditions for long term defeat of ISIS and al Qaeda have been achieved.”
The Senate Majority Leader said that “a small minority in both parties seem to think it’s in America’s power to unilaterally resolve conflicts by simply walking away from them.”
“Of course, all wars must end,” he said. “The question is now how they end, and whether the terms on which they end are favorable or unfavorable to the security and interests of the United States.”
CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed to this report.