President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer chairman of Wisconsin GOP party signals he will comply with Jan. 6 committee subpoena Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon tells Russia to stand down Billionaire GOP donor maxed out to Manchin following his Build Back Better opposition MORE is hearing renewed calls to rethink his Syria withdrawal following an ISIS-claimed suicide bombing that represented the single deadliest attack on Americans in Syria since U.S. troops were deployed in 2015.
The defense and foreign policy establishment is pointing to the recent attack as being indicative of its warnings last month that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was on the ropes, but not knocked out, and would get a second wind with a U.S. pullout.
“The history in that region has been that the minute you take pressure off these groups, they grow, and they begin to strike,” Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPut partisan politics aside — The Child Tax Credit must be renewed immediately These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine MORE (R-Fla.) said. “And if in a year from now, they’re waving black flags and cutting heads again on YouTube, we may have to go back in, which would be the worst possible outcome for the president, for the country.”
Rubio was among a handful of senators who met with Trump at the White House after the attack. The Florida Republican said he left the meeting believing Trump is “very open to keeping his promise to disengage from foreign conflicts in a way that doesn’t undermine our counterterror mission.”
But there is no indication that Trump will heed calls to reconsider the withdrawal as he seeks to fulfill his campaign promise to bring troops home from the Middle East. And supporters of the president’s decision say the attack shows exactly why it's time to pull out.
On Wednesday, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device near a restaurant in the busy city center of Manbij, a town in northern Syria that was retaken from ISIS in 2016.
At least 19 people were killed in the explosion, including two U.S. troops, a Pentagon civilian and an American military contractor.
Before the attack, two U.S. service members had been killed in action in Syria since 2015.
About 50 U.S. troops were deployed to help local forces fight ISIS in October 2015, a number that gradually grew to the 2,000 troops there now.
Manbij has been at the center of a strategic struggle, particularly between U.S.-backed Kurdish forces and Turkey, which wants to expel the Kurdish forces that it considers terrorists.
Since Trump announced the withdrawal, Russian and Syrian forces have moved on the town at the invitation of Kurds who want protection from Turkey.
Even with the geopolitical scramble, Manbij had been seen as clear of a threat from ISIS, an image shattered after Wednesday’s attack.
The attack further undermined Trump’s initial claim that ISIS was defeated, an assertion he made when announcing the withdrawal. Administration officials have since tempered that characterization.
On Thursday, in his first public comments on the attack, Trump offered his condolences but did not address the withdrawal plans.
“I wanted to take a moment to express my deepest condolences to the families of the brave American heroes who laid down their lives yesterday in selfless service to our nation,” Trump said during a speech at the Pentagon to unveil a missile defense review. “These are great people, great, great people. We will never forget their noble and immortal sacrifice.”
In remarks introducing Trump, Vice President Pence indicated the withdrawal is moving forward.
“Their families and our armed forces should know their sacrifice will only steel our resolve that as we begin to bring our troops home, we will do so in a way that ensures that the remnants of ISIS will never be able to re-establish their evil and murderous caliphate,” Pence said.
Those who support Trump’s withdrawal argue the attack shows why it’s time for troops to leave — because they were patrolling Manbij and a suicide bomber still slipped through. Others forces can handle patrols from here on out, they argue.
Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul praises removal of Neil Young songs from Spotify: 'Seeya' YouTube permanently bans Dan Bongino Conservative pundit says YouTube blocked interview with Rand Paul MORE (R-Ky.), an isolationist who supported Trump’s decision on Syria, came back from a White House meeting after the attack saying Trump would stick with his plan, as well as draw down U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
“I really am proud of the president for making an argument that really no president in recent history has made, and that is that we’ve been at war too long in too many places, and he’s really going to make a difference,” Paul said.
But Trump is hearing a starkly different message from other GOP allies on Capitol Hill.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense & National Security — White House raises new alarm over Russia Biden sparks confusion, cleanup on Russia-Ukraine remarks Republicans say Mayorkas failed to deliver report on evacuated Afghans MORE (R-Okla.), who after a briefing last week indicated Trump would base the withdrawal on conditions on the ground, said Wednesday’s incident is the type of condition that calls for Trump to reverse course.
The administration, Inhofe said, “made it very clear that conditions on the ground could be changing, could change [Trump’s] position in terms of withdrawal. I think this is the type of tragedy that can take place that could change that.”
“I personally believe it should” cause Trump to reverse the withdrawal, Inhofe added.
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWhite House confirms Judge J. Michelle Childs under consideration for Supreme Court Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon tells Russia to stand down Ukraine sent letter to senators seeking specific Russia sanctions, military assistance MORE (R-S.C.), who’s often considered a Trump ally but has been among the most vocal critics of the Syria decision, took time out of chairing an unrelated Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday to say that he “would hope the president would look long and hard of where he’s headed in Syria.”
On Thursday, Graham was in Turkey to discuss Syria with Turkish leaders.
When asked if the attack should affect the withdrawal plans, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames Elroy RischUkraine sent letter to senators seeking specific Russia sanctions, military assistance Jewish groups sound the alarm as anti-vaccine mandate movement invokes Holocaust Senators huddle on Russia sanctions as tensions escalate MORE (R-Idaho) said the issue is “more complicated than that.”
“We’re going to respond to terrorist attacks no matter what, no matter where, regardless of where the troops are posted,” Risch said. “We have platforms all over to be able to respond, and we will.”
Democrats, who largely oppose Trump’s withdrawal, said the attack revealed the faulty premise of the president’s strategy.
“The planned troop withdrawal was a strategic mistake,” Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedDefense bill sets up next fight over military justice Ukraine president, US lawmakers huddle amid tensions with Russia Photos of the Week: Tornado aftermath, Medal of Honor and soaring superheroes MORE (R.I.), the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, said. “I think what [the attack] says is we have to look very carefully at, reevaluate the withdrawal and certainly if it’s done, it has to be done in a more coherent way.”
While ISIS “doesn’t need an excuse” to attack, Reed added, “this provided for them a very powerful narrative of, ‘You say we’re beaten, we’ll show you.’”