The Republican-led US Senate has backed an amendment opposing President Donald Trump’s plans for a quick withdrawal of American troops from Syria and Afghanistan, citing concerns that such moves will benefit Russia and Iran.
The senators voted 70-26 in favor of the non-binding and largely symbolic amendment on Monday, which disputed Trump’s claims about defeating Daesh and said the terrorist group still posed a “serious threat” to the US mainland.
Upon announcing his plans to evacuate Syria and drastically reduce troop levels in Afghanistan in December, Trump said he was returning American soldiers home in a few months because Daesh was no longer a threat.
However, the new amendment, drafted by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, argued that while there had been progress in the fight against Daesh in both Syria and Afghanistan, the Trump administration had more to do in order to ensure the terror outfit’s “enduring defeat.”
It further warned that “a precipitous withdrawal” from the two countries could cause instability in the region and leave behind a vacuum that Iran and Russia would fill.
Trump’s announcement has been met with heavy backlash from both sides of the aisle. It also led retired General Jim Mattis to hand in his resignation as Defense Secretary.
Before the vote on Monday, McConnell said he brought the bill to let senators “speak clearly and directly about the importance” of the missions in Afghanistan and Syria.
Last week, after senators pushed the amendment through, he told reporters: “Withdrawal of the United States forces from the ongoing fight against these groups . . . could allow terrorists to regroup, destabilize critical regions, and create vacuums that could be filled by Iran or Russia, to the detriment of United States’ interests and those of our allies.”
I defeated all Republicans, people agree with me: Trump
In an interview aired by CBS on Sunday, Trump made it clear that he was not going to halt the withdrawal and retract one of his main campaign promises just because Senate Republicans said it was being done “precipitously.”
“Precipitously? We’ve been there for 19 years. I want to fight. I want to win, and we want to bring our great troops back home,” Trump said.
“I ran against 17 Republicans. This was a big part of what I was saying, and I won very easily. I think the people out in the world – I think people in our country agree,” he said, referring to the 2016 presidential primaries, where he defeated over a dozen of Republican candidates to win party nomination.
He claimed that even the Taliban were weary of war and had agreed to peace talks to end the conflict.
“And we’ll see what happens with the Taliban. They want peace. They’re tired. Everybody’s tired. We’d like to have – I don’t like endless wars. This war. What we’re doing is got to stop at some point,” he said.
War unites Republicans, Democrats: Rand Paul
The vote drew an angry response from Senator Rand Paul, who accused both parties of forming a “war caucus.”
“What is the one thing that brings Republicans and Democrats together?” Paul asked. “War. They love it, the more, the better. Forever war, perpetual war.”
The Kentucky lawmaker hailed Trump for being “bold enough and strong enough” to bring the war in Afghanistan to an end.
“How do you leave precipitously after 17 years?” Paul asked. “We are no longer fighting anyone who attacked us on 9/11.”
The US invasion of Afghanistan began after the September 11, 2001 attacks against World trade Center in New York City.
Middle East bill moves forward
The vote on Monday added the new amendment to a broader Middle East security bill which is currently moving through Congress and addresses a range of issues involving America’s regional interests.
The Senate voted 72-24 in a procedural vote later on Monday to advance the bill.
To become law, the Middle East bill needs to pass the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, which is unlikely due to concerns about a provision that aims to curb the “Boycott, Divest and Sanctions” movement against Israel and its violent treatment of Palestinian people.
This was the second time in the past two months that Republicans in the Senate supported measures contradicting Trump’s foreign policy, although legislations to change his policies have yet to become law.