Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just took a big swipe at President Trump over his reported plan to slash U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, displaying a rare split from the president.
McConnell came out swinging against any notion of reducing the presence of U.S. troops in the war torn country during a stern speech on the Senate floor on Monday. McConnell has defended Trump for years through major controversies, including an impeachment and Trump’s refusal to admit that he lost the 2020 election. But on Monday, McConnell expressed alarm over the reports of Trump’s defense plans.
"A rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight, delight, the people who wish us harm,” McConnell said. “We’d be abandoning our partners in Afghanistan, the brave Afghans who are fighting the terrorists.”
McConnell’s remarks follow reports in Politico and CNN that the Trump administration plans to cut U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to 2,500 in each country by Jan. 15. The U.S. currently has about 4,500 US troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 troops in Iraq, according to CNN. The White House and the Pentagon declined to comment on the reports on Monday afternoon.
Trump has railed for years in favor of ending American involvement in foreign wars, a position that put him at odds with Republicans who favor a more interventionist stance. The president has railed against American military incursions in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which were initiated by former Republican President George W. Bush with widespread Republican support at the time.
In October, Trump reportedly alarmed U.S. military officials when he tweeted that the U.S. should pull out all of its forces from Afghanistan by Christmas.
After the November election, Trump swiftly moved to replace several top officials in the Pentagon, including former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, in what observers have speculated might represent an attempt to clear away any resistance to reducing the U.S. force posture in the Middle East.
But McConnell’s blistering criticism on Monday suggested that even his patience for Trump’s freewheeling leadership style has limits — particularly in foreign policy.
McConnell compared a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan to what he called America’s “humiliating” pullout from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. He added that leaving Afghanistan would create the kind of power vacuum that led to the rise of the ISIS terror group in Iraq.
“It would hand a weakened and scattered Al Qaeda a big propaganda victory and a renewed safe haven for plotting attacks against America,” McConnell said. “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.”