Bipartisan US Senate vote rebukes Trump on Syria, Afghanistan pullout plans
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Bipartisan US Senate vote rebukes Trump on Syria, Afghanistan pullout plans

Measure led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell states that Islamic State and al-Qaeda have yet to be defeated, still pose a serious threat to America

In this file photo taken on January 25, 2019, US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talks with reporters at the US Capitol in Washington, DC (WIN MCNAMEE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)
In this file photo taken on January 25, 2019, US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talks with reporters at the US Capitol in Washington, DC (WIN MCNAMEE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a bipartisan rebuke to President Donald Trump, the Senate voted 68-23 Thursday to advance an amendment that would oppose withdrawal of US troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

The amendment by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell comes after Trump called for a drawdown of troops in both of those countries. The measure says the Islamic State and al-Qaeda militants still pose a serious threat to the United States, and it warns that “a precipitous withdrawal” of US forces from those countries could “allow terrorists to regroup, destabilize critical regions and create vacuums that could be filled by Iran or Russia.”

Trump abruptly tweeted plans for a US pullout from Syria in December, arguing that the Islamic State had been defeated even though his intelligence chiefs have said the group remains a threat. Trump also ordered the military to develop plans to remove up to half of the 14,000 US forces in Afghanistan.

McConnell didn’t frame the measure as a reproach to the president, but he said before the vote that “I’ve been clear about my own views on these subjects.” He said he believes the threats remain.

“ISIS and al-Qaida have yet to be defeated,” McConnell said. “And American national security interests require continued commitment to our missions there.”

The vote is the latest indication of deepening cracks between the Republican Senate and Trump on foreign policy matters. Similar rifts exist within Trump’s own administration, evident this week when the heads of major US intelligence agencies testified to the Senate and contradicted him on the strength of the Islamic State and several other foreign policy matters. Trump’s announcement on Syria, meanwhile, prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

US President Donald Trump speaks in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, January 23, 2019, as he hosts a roundtable with conservative leaders to discuss the security and humanitarian crisis at the southern border. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

McConnell’s amendment, which is nonbinding, would encourage cooperation between the White House and Congress to develop long-term strategies in both nations, “including a thorough accounting of the risks of withdrawing too hastily.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., argued in support of the amendment on the Senate floor, saying Trump’s withdrawal announcement has already undermined US credibility in the region.

“This is being used against us right now,” Rubio said. “This is a very dangerous situation. That’s why this is a very bad idea.”

Though many Democrats have argued that the US should eventually withdraw from the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, around half of them supported McConnell’s resolution.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said after the vote that she believes it’s “far past due for the United States to negotiate an appropriate end” to the conflict in Afghanistan. But she said she also agreed with McConnell that the “precipitous withdrawal” from either country without political resolutions would risk what troops there have already achieved. She voted in favor of the measure.

Many of the most liberal members of the Senate — including several Democrats who are eying presidential runs in 2020 — voted against the amendment.

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said he thinks Trump announced the withdrawals too abruptly, but the US has been in Afghanistan and Syria for too long. “What McConnell is saying is let’s maintain the status quo,” he said.

In this November 27, 2018, file photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, speaks about his new book, ‘Where We Go From Here: Two Years in the Resistance,’ at a George Washington University/Politics and Prose event in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

A handful of Republicans also opposed the amendment. McConnell’s Kentucky colleague, Republican Sen. Rand Paul, missed the vote but said he was against it.

“It’s time to bring our troops home from Afghanistan and Syria,” Paul wrote in a tweet, saying he stands with Trump. “It is ludicrous to call withdrawal after 17 years ‘precipitous.'”

A vote on final passage of the amendment could come early next week. If it succeeds, the language would be added to a wide-ranging foreign policy bill that has been pending on the Senate floor for several weeks. The legislation includes measures supporting Israel and Jordan and slapping sanctions on Syrians involved in war crimes.

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