Bipartisan House group introduces bills to stall Syria, South Korea troop withdrawals

Bipartisan House group introduces bills to stall Syria, South Korea troop withdrawals
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A bipartisan group of eight House lawmakers on Wednesday introduced two bills to make it more difficult for the Trump administration to withdraw troops from Syria and South Korea. 

The bills, introduced by freshman Reps. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiSanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements NJ lawmaker flips endorsement to Biden after Booker drops out House votes to temporarily repeal Trump SALT deduction cap MORE (D-N.J.), and Van TaylorNicholas (Van) Van Campen TaylorHouse GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues 58 GOP lawmakers vote against disaster aid bill Freshman House Dems surge past GOP in money race MORE (R-Texas), would limit the funds the administration may use to pull troops from the countries.

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Democrat Reps. Andy Kim (N.J.), Jimmy PanettaJames Varni PanettaLawmakers warn Pentagon against reduction of US forces in Africa Hillicon Valley: Election security funding gets mixed response | Facebook tests community fact checking | Lawmakers look to block Chinese pick for IP organization | Secret court judge rebukes FBI over surveillance warrants Bipartisan lawmakers urge Trump to oppose Chinese nominee to lead intellectual property body MORE (D-Calif.), and Max RoseMax RoseSanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements Bloomberg's congressional endorsers grow to three The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (N.Y.), also back the bills, as do Republican Reps. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherGOP lawmaker: New sanctions provide 'offramp' from rising US-Iran tensions GOP Congressman reacts to Trump's address Hillicon Valley: DHS warns of Iranian cyber threats | YouTube updates child content policy | California privacy law takes effect | Tech, cyber issues to watch in 2020 MORE (Wis.), Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikWhite House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team Lawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Overnight Energy: Republicans eye top spot on Natural Resources panel | GOP lawmakers push back on bill to make greener refrigerators, air conditioners | Green groups sue Trump over California fracking plans MORE (N.Y.), and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHouse Democrats launch effort to register minority voters in key districts Hurd says Democrats, media are being manipulated by Iran Bottom Line MORE (Texas). Kim, Gallagher and Stefanik all serve on the House Armed Services Committee.

The first bill, titled the “Responsible Withdrawal From Syria Act,” prohibits the use of Pentagon funds to draw down active duty troop presence in Syria below 1,500.

“None of the funds made available to the Department of Defense (DoD) for fiscal year 2019 may be used” on such a withdrawal unless the Defense and State secretaries and the director of National Intelligence submit to Congress a report that addresses several questions, according to the bill.

The list of 15 questions includes queries on the current strength and of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the threat the group continues to pose to the U.S. and its allies, the risks involved with conducting counter-ISIS operations following a withdrawal, and the administration’s military and political strategy for meeting any remaining threat from the group.

The lawmakers also want to know and whether the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — the group the U.S. has partnered with in fighting ISIS — will remain a viable fighting force in the absence of a U.S. military presence in Syria, the actions the administration plans to take to ensure the safety of Syrian nationals who provided support to the coalition and the commitments, if any, that Turkey has extended with respect to fighting ISIS and refraining from military action against the Kurds.

“While every effort should be made to reach lasting solutions through diplomacy, the reality remains that the United States must stand ready to protect our interests and the security of our allies in the Middle East,” Taylor said in a statement.

“We must also ensure that our actions don’t contribute to a resurgence of terrorism in the region or to the expanded influence of malign foreign actors like Iran or Russia in Syria.”

President Trump raised concerns among lawmakers and the intelligence community late last year when he announced that the U.S. would begin a military withdrawal from Syria after claiming victory over ISIS.

The decision, which led to the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis and other officials, was criticized as too hasty, ill thought out and an opportunity for ISIS to regain losses and ramp up the fight against U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters.

Officials, lawmakers and international allies are also are worried that Turkey, who views the SDF as a terrorist organization, will move to retaliate against the group once U.S. forces leave the region.

The second bill, titled the “United States and Republic of Korea Alliance Support Act,” takes a similar route and would also halt the use FY-19 DoD dollars “to reduce the total number of Armed Forces serving on active duty in the Republic of Korea below 22,000,” pending several certifications to Congress.

Trump has signaled in the past that he wants to draw down troops in the Korean Peninsula, complaining that the cost of maintaining a military presence there is too high.

The Defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must “jointly certify to the relevant congressional committees that the Republic of Korea would be fully capable of defending itself and deterring a conflict on the Korean Peninsula that would threaten United States interests following such a reduction,” the bill states. 

The Defense secretary must also consult with U.S. allies, including South Korea and Japan, regarding such a reduction, and the secretary and the chairman must jointly certify to Congress that North Korea has “completed verifiable and irreversible nuclear disarmaments.” 

The bill’s release comes a day after Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testified to Congress that the chances of full North Korean denuclearization appear unlikely.

“We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival,” Coats said.

The president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are expected to meet for a second summit next month to further discuss North Korea’s nuclear program.