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Senate Passes Bill Opposing Syria, Afghanistan Troop Withdrawals

U.S. Army Third Infantry Division soldiers provide security during an Afghan-led operation near Kabul, Afghanistan, September 16, 2018. (Sean Kimmons/US Army)

The Senate on Tuesday approved a Middle East-policy bill including a rebuke of President Trump’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops currently stationed in Syria and about half of those in Afghanistan.

In a bipartisan 77 to 23 vote, the upper chamber passed and sent to the House the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, which includes a provision from Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell warning against a “precipitous” withdrawal of troops from the area.

“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 of his provision to the bill on the Senate floor last week.

The rest of the bill, sponsored by Florida Republican Marco Rubio, would impose new sanctions on Syria’s bank and those supporting Syria’s government while increasing military aid to Israel and Jordan. It also includes a controversial measure that divided Democrats, which would allow states and local governments to refuse contracts to entities involved in the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement that seeks to punish Israel.

On December 19, President Trump promised to withdraw the approximately 2,000 troops currently stationed in Syria and about half of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, announcing that the Islamic State had been “defeated” in the region. The move drew bipartisan criticism, including from usually staunch allies of the president such as Senator Lindsey Graham, who called the decision an “Obama-like mistake.”

U.S. intelligence chiefs, the Department of Defense inspector general, and the top U.S. general in charge of military operations in the Middle East have all warned over the last week that ISIS is likely to be encouraged by the absence of U.S. troops in Syria and regain control over territory.

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