Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing an amendment to a Middle East policy bill that would acknowledge “al Qaeda, ISIS and their affiliates in Syria and Afghanistan continue to pose a serious threat to us here at home,” a move seen as a sharp rebuke to President Donald Trump’s push to withdraw US troops from Syria.
“It would recognize the dangers of a precipitous withdrawal from either conflict and highlight the need for diplomatic engagement and political solutions to the underlying conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan,” McConnell said Tuesday from the Senate floor, announcing the amendment to the bill, which is currently being debated.
Exact timing for the final vote on the bill, which at this point enjoys bipartisan support, has not yet been determined.
McConnell added that, “while it is tempting to retreat to the comfort and security of our own shores, there is still a great deal of work to be done…..we’re not the world’s policemen, but we are the leaders of the free world.”
Trump ordered a rapid withdrawal of troops from Syria on December 19, a move that was widely criticized by lawmakers from both parties.
Since that initial announcement, Trump earlier this month extended his original 30-day timeline to withdraw the troops to four months and told reporters, “I never said we’re doing it quickly, but we’re decimating ISIS.” National security adviser John Bolton said earlier this month that the US will pull out of Syria only with assurances Turkey will not attack Kurdish allies there.
Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the US-led coalition, said in a statement January 11 that the coalition “has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria,” but did not provide additional details.
The Senate voted overwhelmingly 74 to 19 Monday to advance to open debate on a Middle East policy bill that includes fresh sanctions on Syria. The Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act wraps together five bills into one package. It includes new sanctions against Syria’s central bank and individuals providing support for the Syrian government. It boosts military support for Israel and Jordan, two US allies that are Syria’s neighbors. And makes it easier for states and localities to approve laws to combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier Tuesday that ISIS “has returned to its guerrilla warfare roots while continuing to plot attacks and direct its supporters worldwide.”
But he also clearly stated that the group maintains a presence in Iraq and Syria.
“ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria,” he said.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters at that same hearing that ISIS has lost “99.5% plus” of the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq, adding “within a couple of weeks it will be 100%.”
“ISIS is no longer able to govern in Syria, ISIS no longer has freedom to mass forces, Syria is no longer a safe haven,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan made the remarks as the US intelligence community released their Worldwide Threat Assessment that found “ISIS very likely will continue to pursue external attacks from Iraq and Syria against regional and Western adversaries, including the United States.”
CNN’s Barbara Starr, Zachary Cohen and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.