Sen. Sullivan worries Trump’s Syria withdrawal could put U.S. troops in danger

Sen. Dan Sullivan. (2016 Halifax International Security Forum/Flickr Creative Commons)

Alaska’s U.S. Dan Sullivan is calling on President Donald Trump to stand up for the U.S. troops withdrawing from Syria, saying he’s worried that the withdrawal could put them in a vulnerable position.

Sullivan, in a tweeted statement today, called on the President to warn adversaries against attacking U.S. troops while they withdraw from the region. He added that the U.S. should be prepared to respond to any such attack with force.

Sullivan, along with the rest of Alaska’s Congressional Delegation and a broad swath of Congressional Republicans, opposed Trump’s decision to yank troops from Syria and abandon Kurdish forces that had been working with the U.S. in the region. They argued that the U.S. was abandoning the Kurds, setting a bad precedent for the U.S.’s allies and opening the door to ISIS and other adversaries.

Now it appears that the move doesn’t just raise concerns about the safety of Kurds, but of U.S. troops.

U.S. troops have already left Syria’s border region with Turkey—which has kicked off the Turkish offensive against Kurdish forces—and about 1,000 troops are expected to depart Syria over the next few weeks.

“It’s important to recognize that one of the most dangerous maneuvers for an American ground force is to withdraw from an established position under fire,” said Sullivan, who is currently a reserve member of the U.S. Marine Corps. “Our Syrian, Iranian and Russian adversaries know this—and are likely to try to inflict casualties on American troops in the coming days.”

The message from Trump, Sullivan said, should be clear to the adversaries.

“President Trump, Secretary of Defense Esper, and our new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Milley, should be sending a warning to these countries AND Turkey, that any targeting or killing of American forces by them or their proxies will be met in kind, or worse for them—as the Trump administration did in 2018, when Russian proxies were warned to stay clear of U.S. special forces in Syria,” Sullivan wrote. “When they didn’t heed this warning, our military destroyed and killed hundreds of them. If necessary, we should be prepared to do it again.”

Trump called for a cease fire in the region on Monday and Vice President Mike Pence will be dispatched to Turkey on Wednesday in hopes of securing the pause in the conflict.

Why it matters

The president’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria continues to be a flashpoint dividing Trump and Republicans who have dependably stood by his side throughout his administration. Sullivan’s criticism of Trump’s handling of Syria ranks among the fiercest criticism the Republican has registered against the president.

The latest concerns raised by Sullivan also illustrate that the issue of the Syria withdrawal will not be limited to a few days. There’s still plenty of room and time for additional bad headlines out of the conflict zone as the withdrawal will take place over several weeks and as we see the fallout as Turkey moves in and Russians take over U.S. military bases. Already tens of thousands of people are displaced by the new fighting and hundreds of ISIS prisoners are reportedly escaping from detention camps.

Still, tough tweets like this one and others do little to actually hold the president accountable for his decisions. Whether Senate Republicans like Sullivan escalate their concerns beyond social media posts is yet to be seen.

The tweet

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