Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Monday that President Donald Trump shouldn’t withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, hours after reports emerged that Pentagon officials anticipate planned drawdowns from Afghanistan and Iraq by Jan. 15.
In a Senate floor speech, McConnell suggested that the “premature” removal of U.S. troops from the region “would hurt our allies and delight … delight the people who wish us harm.” He said that the move would only be supported by a “small minority” in Congress.
“We’re playing a limited—limited—but important role in defending American national security and American interests against terrorists who would like nothing more than for the most powerful force for good in the world to simply pick up our ball and go home,” McConnell said. “They would love that.”
“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.
Trump had addressed this concern in a speech in 2017 outlining his strategy for the war in Afghanistan, saying that he didn’t want to repeat the Obama administration’s mistake, which created a power vacuum that led to parts of Iraq being seized by ISIS.
At the time, he admitted that “my original instinct was to pull out.” But after speaking with the country’s military leaders, he said they determined that Afghanistan could not be allowed to fall into the hands of terrorist groups again.
“The men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory,” Trump said at the time. Therefore, we must “seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives.”
In October, Trump reignited the debate about his Afghan withdrawal strategy with a confusing statement on Twitter, saying that “the small remaining number” of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan would be “home by Christmas.”
He has also repeatedly called for drawing down troops from Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere—a desire that was sometimes stymied by high-level officials.
The United States deployed military members to Afghanistan in late 2001 and has had a presence there ever since, nearly 20 years later.
According to anonymous sources first cited by CNN, they believe the president will this week order that the number of U.S. troops be reduced by 2,000 to 2,500 in Afghanistan, and by 500 to 2,500 in Iraq by the January deadline.
The Pentagon and the White House didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment by The Epoch Times.
McConnell then lauded Trump’s efforts over the past four years in the region.
“President Trump deserves major credit—major credit—for reducing U.S. forces in Afghanistan to a sustainable level, scoring major victories against terrorists across the region, and ensuring the Afghans themselves are at the front of the fight,” McConnell said. “That same successful approach should continue until the conditions for long term defeat of ISIS and al Qaeda have been achieved.”
“A disorganized retreat would jeopardize the track record of major success this administration has worked to compile,” he added.
‘Transition to a Supportive Role’
Trump’s new acting Pentagon chief Christopher Miller, who replaced ousted Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, clearly stated the strategy for armed forces in the region in a letter issued to Department of Defense employees on Nov. 13 (pdf). He explained that Americans shouldn’t be embroiled in perpetual wars and that the situation was now at a point of transition to a supportive role.
“As we prepare for the future, we remain committed to finishing the war that Al Qaida brought to our shores in 2001. This war isn’t over,” wrote Miller, a Green Beret who was deployed to Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“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—but this is the critical phase in which we transition our efforts from a leadership to supporting role. We are not a people of perpetual war—it is the antithesis of everything for which we stand and for which our ancestors fought. All wars must end,” he continued.
“Ending wars requires compromise and partnership. We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it’s time to come home.”
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.