Narrow majority backs Trump on Syria, Afghanistan troop reductions

A narrow majority of U.S. voters surveyed support President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and reduce the country’s military presence in Afghanistan, according to a new Harvard CAPS/Harris poll released exclusively to The Hill.

Fifty-two percent of respondents said they back the moves in Syria and Afghanistan, which came as a surprise to the president’s own national security advisers when it was announced last week. By contrast, 48 percent said they oppose the troop withdrawals and reductions, the poll found.

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Trump announced he would completely remove the approximately 2,000 troops in Syria battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), while he said he would cut in half the roughly 14,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The announcements contributed to the resignation of Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Amazon to challenge Pentagon's 'war cloud' decision in federal court Former Mattis staffer: Trump 'shooting himself in the foot' on foreign policy MORE and Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy to the coalition fighting ISIS.

They have also been criticized by a number of GOP lawmakers, while the removal of U.S. troops from Syria has won praise from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who wants to increase his country’s leverage in the Middle East.

While a slight majority of U.S. voters in the poll said they support the troop reduction in Syria and Afghanistan, an even larger majority — 69 percent — said that it is important for the U.S. to keep ground troops in the Middle East.

Twenty-three percent said it is “very important,” while 46 percent said that it is “somewhat important,” the poll found.

When asked whether they “think U.S. ground troops should be kept in places like Syria and Iraq to maintain security in the region” or if they “think it is better to withdraw our troops from such areas,” 54 percent of respondents said that it is better to keep troops there, while 46 percent said that U.S. forces should be withdrawn from the region.

Mark Penn, the co-director of the Harvard CAPS/Harris poll, said that the simultaneous support for the troop withdrawal and for keeping U.S. forces in the Middle East signals that voters are willing to trust Trump's military judgement.

“A majority supports the president’s decision to remove troops from Syria despite their general view they would keep troops there,” Penn said. “This suggests that they would have supported either decision but are going with the president on this one. Their reasoning goes like this: ‘if a president as pro military as Trump wants the troops out, maybe he is right.’ ”