McConnell warns Trump against troop drawdown in Afghanistan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fired a warning shot Monday against withdrawing more U.S. troops from Afghanistan, even as the Pentagon is preparing an order to do so. 

McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, warned that only a “small minority” in Congress would support a rapid drawdown and warned that a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan “would hurt our allies and delight, delight, the people who wish us harm.” 

“The consequences of a premature American exit would likely be even worse than President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq back in 2011. … It would be reminiscent of the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975. We’d be abandoning our partners in Afghanistan,” McConnell said from the Senate floor. 

McConnell didn’t directly criticize Trump in his speech. But his remarks come amid multiple reports that Pentagon officials anticipate Trump will as soon as this week order military officials to cut the number of troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 and the number of forces in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500 by Jan 15. 

McConnell credited the Trump administration with gains made during the past four years, arguing that the United States was playing a “limited but important role” and that drawing down troops would “embolden the Taliban.” 

“A disorganized retreat would jeopardize the track record of major success this administration has worked to compile,” he said. 

McConnell added that while all wars end, “nothing about the circumstances we face today suggest that if we lose resolve, the terrorists will simply leave us alone.”  

McConnell’s break with Trump comes as national security has been a rolling point of tension between Senate Republicans and the Trump White House. In 2019, the Senate included language, spearheaded by McConnell, in a foreign policy bill that warned the Trump administration from a “precipitous” withdrawal of U.S. troops in Syria and Afghanistan. 

An order to pull back troops comes after a leadership purge in the Pentagon and warnings from top defense officials that removing more troops prematurely could ultimately worsen the chances for peace in the country. 

Trump ousted former Defense Secretary Mark Esper earlier this month and put Christopher Miller in his place as  acting Pentagon chief. 

Miller on Friday released a confusing and sometimes contradicting letter saying “it’s time to come home” from foreign conflicts but also noting that U.S. troops were not done fighting.

“This war isn’t over. We are on the verge of defeating Al Qaida and its associates, but we must avoid our past strategic error of failing to see the fight through to the finish. Indeed, this fight has been long, our sacrifices have been enormous, and many are weary of war – I’m one of them,” Miller wrote in reference to the current U.S. role of supporting counterterrorism campaigns in the Middle East.

“All wars must end,” he added. “Ending wars requires compromise and partnership. We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it’s time to come home.”

Tags Mark Esper Mitch McConnell

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