Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday warned President Trump against drawing down troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, saying it could be a “humiliating” moment akin to the 1975 fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War.
Trump reportedly plans to reduce troop levels to 2,500 in each country before President-elect Joe Biden takes office Jan. 20 — down from 4,500 in Afghanistan and 3,000 in Iraq currently.
The White House and Pentagon didn’t deny the reports.
McConnell (R-Ky.) stridently objected, saying in a Senate floor speech that “a rapid withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and 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 in 2011, which fueled the rise of ISIS and a new round of global terrorism. It would be reminiscent of the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975,” he said.
McConnell, who will become the most powerful Republican in Washington after Biden assumes power, noted that support for withdrawing troops is bipartisan, but cast the sentiment as belonging to “a small minority in both parties.”
“Last year, 70 senators — a bipartisan supermajority — voted for an amendment I authored… [that] cautioned that precipitous withdrawal would create vacuums that Iran, Russia and the terrorists would be delighted to fill,” he said.
“There is no American who does not wish the war in Afghanistan against terrorists and their enablers had already been conclusively won. But that does not change the actual choice before us now.”
While seeking re-election, Trump routinely said in stump speeches that he would stop the “endless wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to topple the Taliban after 9/11 and invaded Iraq in 2003 following incorrect claims about weapons of mass destruction.
McConnell said that the Taliban could retake power if US troops leave.
“Our retreat would embolden the Taliban, especially the deadly Haqqani wing, and risk plunging Afghan women and girls back into what they experienced in the 1990s. It would hand a weakened and scattered al Qaeda a big propaganda victory and a renewed safe haven for plotting attacks against America. And it would be welcome news to Iran, which has long provided arms and support to the Taliban and explicitly seeks our retreat from the Middle East,” he said.
“A disorganized retreat would jeopardize the track record of major successes this Administration has worked hard to compile.”
McConnell warned: “As a number of former officials and ambassadors recently stated, ‘The spectacle of US troops abandoning facilities and equipment, leaving the field in Afghanistan to the Taliban and ISIS, would be broadcast around the world as a symbol of US defeat and humiliation, and a victory for Islamist extremism.’”
Few lawmakers chimed in to support Trump’s reported plans, but the possible draw-downs were celebrated by some conservative advocates who embrace Trump’s opposition to military interventions and what Trump often calls a war-supporting “military-industrial complex.”
“Trump should go even further and order a full withdrawal [from Afghanistan] as soon as possible. The American public — and US veterans at large — are tired of fighting this conflict,” said Dan DePetris of the group Defense Priorities.
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