Congressionally appointed panel recommends US halt Syria withdrawal

Congressionally appointed panel recommends US halt Syria withdrawal
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A congressionally appointed panel recommended the United States halt its withdrawal from Syria to prevent an ISIS resurgence, counter Iranian influence in the country and provide leverage for a negotiated end to the Syrian civil war.

The recommendation was contained in the 80-page final report released Tuesday by the Syria Study Group, a 12-member, bipartisan panel created by Congress to examine U.S. strategy in Syria. 

“Absent changes in the behavior of the Assad regime—something Russia has conspicuously failed to accomplish—and associated improvements in conditions within the country, Syria will remain the leading source of instability in the Middle East: ISIS, al-Qaeda, and successor entities will find fertile ground for their activities; Iranian influence will deepen; the humanitarian crisis will expand; and new waves of refugees will seek safety abroad,” wrote the group, which was co-chaired by George W. Bush administration alum Michael Singh and Obama administration alum Dana Stroul.

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“Removing U.S. military forces from Syria would exacerbate and accelerate these trends,” they added.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump passes Pence a dangerous buck Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Trump taps Pence to lead coronavirus response | Trump accuses Pelosi of trying to create panic | CDC confirms case of 'unknown' origin | Schumer wants .5 billion in emergency funds Trump nods at reputation as germaphobe during coronavirus briefing: 'I try to bail out as much as possible' after sneezes MORE announced in December he would withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria and has repeatedly claimed total defeat for ISIS, blindsiding allies and prompting the resignation of James MattisJames Norman MattisFed chief issues stark warning to Congress on deficits Why US democracy support matters Hillicon Valley: DOJ indicts four Chinese military officers over Equifax hack | Amazon seeks Trump deposition in 'war cloud' lawsuit | Inside Trump's budget | Republican proposes FTC overhaul MORE as Defense secretary. Trump later backed off that plan after criticisms that a full withdrawal would allow ISIS to regroup and leave partner forces such as the Kurds vulnerable to attack.

But U.S. forces have still drawn down, currently standing at about 1,000 troops compared to the peak of about 2,000.

Without naming Trump, the report released Tuesday knocks “sharp shifts and reversals” in U.S. policy.

“Sharp shifts and reversals in American policy, and the failure of senior U.S. government officials to prioritize the issue with their counterparts, have undermined American credibility and the effectiveness of U.S. policy,” the report said.

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Rather than being defeated, the report said, ISIS has shifted into an insurgency, and the U.S. military mission should shift with it.

The report argued that the U.S. military presence in Syria should not be lumped in with the “forever wars” of Afghanistan and Iraq, saying the U.S. military mission in Syria “offers a different—and far less costly—model.”

“What U.S. forces and their partners have gained in Syria should not be discarded with a premature withdrawal,” the report said.

“To that end, the group recommends that the United States, working in concert with allies and partners, continue its military mission in order to maintain pressure on ISIS and other terrorist groups while maintaining and strengthening pressure on the [President Bashar] Assad regime and its backers until conditions are conducive for a political settlement that ends the Syria war,” it added.

Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Senate Democrats pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Trump under pressure to renew last nuke treaty with Russia MORE (D-N.H.), who authored the legislation that created the Syria Study Group, said she agrees with its findings.

“I agree with the authors of this report—The U.S., even with its limited footprint in Syria, achieved significant gains, and we must hold onto that and use our leverage wisely," she said in a statement Tuesday. "Given the increased role of harmful actors, like Iran, Russia and foreign terrorist fighters on the ground in Syria, it was time for a bipartisan assessment of the crisis that would enable our military to make the right choices. I believe this report and its recommendations are more relevant today than ever.”