Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday said that he is “gravely concerned” about the U.S. strategy in Syria and warned that the withdrawal of U.S. troops would create a “power vacuum” in the region.
“I am gravely concerned by recent events in Syria and by our nation’s apparent response thus far,” McConnell said in a statement.
“Withdrawing American leadership from this pivotal region would not serve our nation’s short-, medium-, or long-term interests. It would only make a troubling situation much worse, not only for regional partners such as Israel and Jordan but for the United States as well,” he continued.
McConnell didn’t directly mention President Trump in his statement. But his comments came minutes before Trump, in a string of tweets, boasted about largely removing troops from Syria.
“Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for thaeir own land,” Trump added.
The two statements underscore the break between Trump and traditional GOP allies on Capitol Hill over the president’s decision to pull back U.S. troops from northern Syria. In the wake of the White House’s announcement last week, Turkey invaded northern Syria and reports emerged over the weekend of some ISIS fighters escaping detention.
“Turkey is our NATO ally and has legitimate security concerns stemming from the conflict in Syria. But Turkey’s offensive against our Syrian Kurdish partners is jeopardizing years of hard-won progress in the fight against ISIS,” McConnell added on Monday.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced Sunday that Trump had ordered the withdrawal of nearly all 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria. Previously, administration officials said about 50 troops would relocate from two outposts in northeast Syria.
Lawmakers are weighing how to respond to Trump’s decision. A bipartisan group from the House and Senate have backed additional sanctions against Turkey, as well as a resolution opposing Trump’s strategy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) spoke on the phone earlier Monday about the need for the two pieces of legislation, but did not reach a deal on specific language.
McConnell did not tip his hand during his statement about what he would support but noted that the Senate previously voted earlier this year warning Trump against pulling troops out of Syria.
“I look forward to discussing what the United States can do to avoid a strategic calamity with my Senate colleagues and with senior administration officials when the Senate returns to Washington this week,” McConnell said on Monday.