Senators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing

Senators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing
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Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee leaving a closed-door briefing on Syria warned Thursday that the damage caused by a U.S. military withdrawal and subsequent Turkish invasion may be "irreversible."

“I fear this is irreversible,” Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session Senate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal MORE (D-N.H.) said. “But the question is, can we prevent the humanitarian catastrophe, can we address the detainees who have escaped and who will be escaping. And that’s the challenge that we have now.”

“It’s a mess,” she added.

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Asked if the situation was reversible, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who put the blame on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said he “can’t imagine Erdoğan is going to change what he’s doing.”

The committee received a classified briefing from Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism | Addresses critical race theory | Top general says Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war The Biden administration and Tunisia: Off to a good start Overnight Defense: Navy pulls plug on 0 million railgun effort | Esper defends Milley after Trump attacks | Navy vet charged in Jan. 6 riot wants trial moved MORE and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley as Congress grapples with how to respond to President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Gosar's siblings pen op-ed urging for his resignation: 'You are immune to shame' Sunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate MORE’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, paving the way for Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish forces.

The briefing also comes a day after a White House meeting with congressional leaders devolved into chaos, with House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiManchin on reported boos at Democratic luncheon: 'I heard a lot of nos' Kinzinger supports Jan. 6 panel subpoenas for Republicans, including McCarthy Ocasio-Cortez: Democrats can't blame GOP for end of eviction moratorium MORE (D-Calif.) accusing Trump of having a “meltdown” and Trump tweeting that it was Pelosi who had a “total meltdown.”

The full Senate and House had been scheduled to receive briefings Thursday, but they were nixed Wednesday afternoon before the White House meeting. Esper and Milley are also expected to brief the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution formally opposing Trump’s withdrawal and urging Turkey to stop its military incursion.

Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezLobbying world This week: Congress starts summer sprint The Innovation and Competition Act is progressive policy MORE (D-N.J.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill MORE (R-Ind.) have introduced a companion version of the resolution in the Senate. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Manchin 'can't imagine' supporting change to filibuster for voting rights Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet MORE (R-Ky.) said Thursday he wants the upper chamber to take up "something stronger."

Meanwhile, Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham, Cuellar press Biden to name border czar Trump takes two punches from GOP The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Civil rights activist Gloria Richardson dies Senate Democrats hit speedbumps with big spending plans MORE (D-Md.) are expected to introduce a sanctions bill later Thursday targeting Turkey’s energy sector and military.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who said he will be one of the co-sponsors of Graham’s sanctions bill, said it would “hopefully push back and reverse the Turkish invasion and the unfolding disaster.”

“To an extent, the egg may be scrambled, but we have an obligation to do whatever we can,” Blumenthal told reporters after the Armed Services briefing. “We are at a moment of reckoning for the United States of America, where we see clear disaster unfolding before us in real time. We have an obligation to act.”

Blumenthal said he thinks there is “very powerful and increasing” support for the bill and urged McConnell to take up the bill “as soon as possible.”

But it’s unclear whether congressional action would spur Erdoğan or Trump to change course and undo the consequences of ISIS prisoners escaping detention in Syria, the Kurds aligning with Russia and Syrian President Bashar Assad, and potential future partners viewing the United States as unreliable.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedUp next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors Senate panel votes to make women register for draft MORE (R.I.), said the ability to fight ISIS has been “supremely complicated” and that “time will tell” if the damage can be reversed.

Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanSenate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior Concerns grow over China's Taiwan plans China conducts amphibious landing drill near Taiwan after senators' visit MORE (R-Alaska), meanwhile, said it “remains to be seen” whether the counter-ISIS mission can be prosecuted without U.S. troops in Syria.

Sen. Angus KingAngus KingManchin 'can't imagine' supporting change to filibuster for voting rights New Senate bill would hurt charities and those they serve Overnight Health Care: CDC advises vaccinated to wear masks in high-risk areas | Biden admin considering vaccine mandate for federal workers MORE (I-Maine) added that “it’s going to be very difficult” to reverse the damage.

“Erdoğan is going to do what he does, but I think he need to know that there are risks and potential consequences, particularly for ethnic consequence,” King said of whether congressional action will be effective.

“There’s the immediate damage and there’s a danger to the people in that region,” he added. “People are already fleeing, there are refugees. But the longer-term damage is what I’m also concerned about, which is A) how we treat allies and whether we will be able to recruit allies in the future, and B) there’s a geopolitical political issue with Iran, opening up something that they’ve wanted for a long time, which is essentially a land bridge through Syria and Lebanon to endanger Israel.”