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US Senate opposes Afghan, Syria withdrawal in rebuke to Trump

President Donald Trump speaks as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, looks on during a meeting with House and Senate leadership on June 6, 2017, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Republican-led U.S. Senate approved a mainly symbolic bill opposing plans to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan in a rare rebuke of President Donald Trump.

With substantial support from both parties, the Senate on January 31 voted 68-23 in favor of a nonbinding amendment stating that the Senate believed that Islamic militant groups in both countries continue to pose a “serious threat” to U.S. security.

The amendment acknowledges that progress has been made in the fight against Islamic State and Al-Qaeda insurgents in both countries. But it said the region could be destabilized should “a precipitous withdrawal” occur without measures taken to secure the gains, likely creating a vacuum that could be filled by Iran or Russia.

The legislation called on the U.S. administration to verify conditions have been met for the militant groups’ “enduring defeat” before any significant withdrawal of troops takes place in Syria or Afghanistan.

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The bill was drafted by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has rarely spoken out against Trump or his policies.

McConnell said this week that the Senate amendment “would acknowledge the plain fact that Al-Qaeda, [Islamic State], and their affiliates in Syria and Afghanistan continue to pose a serious threat to our nation.”

“It would recognize the danger 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,” he said.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio said Trump’s planned withdrawal was a “bad idea.”

Trump surprised U.S. lawmakers and international allies on December 19 by announcing he was withdrawing all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, where they are assisting a Syrian Arab and Kurdish alliance fighting against Islamic State militants and other forces.

“We have won against ISIS, we have beaten them, and we have beaten them badly,” Trump said at the time. “And now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

Trump has since repeatedly defended his decision, saying the troops were initially only going to be there for three months but have remained for years.

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U.S. officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, have said Trump is in the “process of evaluating” whether to withdraw some troops from Afghanistan, where they have been since 2001.