Top Republican urges slow US pullout until IS 'truly defeated'

Top Republican urges slow US pullout until IS 'truly defeated'
Senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham urged President Donald Trump to slow down the withdrawal of US ground troops from Syria to avoid creating a nightmare for allies battling IS.
4 min read
19 January, 2019
A senior Republican senator on Saturday urged President Donald Trump to slow down the withdrawal of US ground troops from Syria until jihadists were defeated to avoid a "nightmare" for Washington's allies.

"I would hope that President Trump would slow the withdrawal until we truly destroy ISIS," Lindsey Graham told a press conference in Ankara, using an acronym for the Islamic State extremist group.

He warned any hasty pullout could lead to a "nightmare" scenario for Israel because of increasing Iranian influence in the war-torn country and for Turkey because of its national security concerns.

The South Carolina lawmaker was in Turkey from Friday for a two-day visit during which he met Turkish officials including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

His talks with Erdogan lasted for over two hours after which he was invited by the Turkish leader to a concert on Friday night by pianist Fazil Say.

Ankara welcomed Trump's announcement last month that the US would pull out its 2,000 military personnel from Syria but American officials and security experts have been more cautious, worried about withdrawing too early.

Graham, who as a member of the Senate Armed Services committee has frequently visited US troops in combat zones, said he believed the "goal of destroying ISIS is not yet accomplished".

Their defeat had been "accomplished territorially" but there were "thousands of ISIS fighters that lurk in Syria", Graham warned.

Four Americans, including two service personnel, were among those killed in a suicide attack this week claimed by the group in the key city of Manbij in Syria's north.

Washington has also expressed concern over Turkey's plans to launch a cross-border military operation against the US-backed Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia. Last weekend, Trump warned of devastating economic consequences for Turkey over any attack on Kurdish forces.

US support for the YPG has caused tension with Ankara which views the militia as a "terrorist offshoot" of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The PKK, which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984, is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the US and the European Union.

Graham previously warned that "Kurds will get slaughtered" if the US withdrew immediately.

But on Saturday, the senator said the YPG's political branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), "is interlinked with the PKK" as he acknowledged Turkey's concerns over the militia.

UN efforts

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the Syria war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of the country.

A drive to bring the Syrian regime back into the Arab fold also seems underway, with the UAE reopening their embassy in Damascus last month.

Meanwhile, the new UN envoy to Syria ended his first visit to the war-torn country on Thursday, stressing the need for a UN-brokered political solution to the eight-year conflict.

Geir Pedersen, a seasoned Norwegian diplomat, concluded his three-day visit and headed to the Lebanese capital Beirut, a UN source told AFP.

The new envoy on Twitter said he had a "constructive meeting" with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem during his stay in Damascus.

During it, he stressed the need for a "Syrian-led and -owned political solution facilitated by the UN", he added.

Pedersen, who started his new job last week, is the fourth UN envoy to seek a solution to Syria's conflict, after endless rounds of failed UN-brokered peace talks.

In recent years, UN-led efforts have been overshadowed by separate negotiations led by regime allies Russia and Iran, as well as rebel backer Turkey.

After Damascus, Pederson said he was off to meet the Syrian Negotiations Committee, Syria's main opposition group.

But he "agreed to come back to Damascus on a regular basis to discuss commonalities and progress on points of disagreement", he added.

Officials in the government of President Bashar al-Assad had set the tone for the new envoy's tenure shortly after his appointment was announced in October, saying "Syria will cooperate with the new UN envoy Geir Pedersen provided he avoids the methods of his predecessor.”

De Mistura ended his four-year tenure with an abortive push to form a committee tasked with drawing up a post-war constitution.

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