Maine’s congressional delegation on Monday sharply criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria’s northeastern border as allied Kurdish fighters warn the move could erode gains made against the Islamic State group.
The White House in a late Sunday night statement said U.S. troops “will not support or be involved in the operation” and “will no longer be in the immediate area” in northern Syria, where about 1,000 troops have been stationed, according to The Associated Press. That statement made no mention of allied Kurdish fighters in the region.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who sits on the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee, called the decision “terribly unwise,” saying that the Kurds have been “our major partner in the fight against the Islamic State.”
The move comes after months of threats from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan to commence military operations against Kurds in northern Syria who he sees as a threat to his country, according to The Associated Press.
U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the region could harm the U.S.’s ability to attract allies in future conflicts.
“The decision to leave our Kurdish partners at the mercy of the Turks is a moral and strategic mistake that undermines America’s trustworthiness in the eyes of the global community and makes it far less likely that we will be able to enlist allies and partners in future conflicts important to our national security. If this is the way we treat those who gave up their lives in our fight against ISIS, who will heed our call the next time we need help and support? This is not America First — it is America Alone,” King said using an acronym to refer to the Islamic State group.
King added that the withdrawal could create “new opportunities” for the Islamic State group to regain territory and embolden Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who has been fighting a protracted civil war against multiple factions in his country.
The Islamic State group at one point controlled close to 34,000 square miles of territory in Syria and Iraq after it commenced a bloody offensive across the region starting in 2014. In March, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria declared that a “ total elimination” of the terrorist group’s so-called caliphate after taking its last stronghold in Baghuz, according to the BBC.
U.S. military officials have cautioned that the fight against the terrorist group isn’t over, and the Defense Department inspector general warned in February prior to the fall of Baghuz that the Islamic State group “remains a potent force of battle-hardened and well-disciplined fighters that ‘could likely resurge in Syria’ absent continued counterterrorism pressure,” according to The Associated Press.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st Congressional District, called the withdrawal an “impulsive decision” and a “reckless reversal of American foreign policy.”
“Without consulting military leaders, he has advanced the interests of Russia, Iran, and Turkey’s strongman President, not the United States. This is yet another instance where the President has jeopardized relationships with our allies around the world and intensified an already volatile situation,” Pingree said.
U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and a military veteran, said in a Monday evening statement that “The situation in Syria is complex, but this much is clear: the president’s decision to abandon one of our critical allies via a middle-of-the-night press release is misguided and may only further destabilize an already volatile region.”
Sunday’s announcement also drew a stiff rebuke from close Republican allies to Trump, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina who called the decision “a disaster,” according to The Associated Press.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, in a Monday afternoon statement called on Trump to prevent a “significant conflict” between Turkey, a NATO ally, and Kurdish forces in northern Syria, and said that a “precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces” would benefit Russia, Iran, Assad and terrorist groups operating in the region.
In a series of tweets, Trump defended his decision to pull Troops from northern Syria, saying it was “time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home.” He added that if Turkey takes unspecific actions of which he disapproves, “I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey.” That echoes a threat Trump made against Turkey in January if it attacked U.S.-backed Kurds in Syria.