Top commander: Syria withdrawal orders came as a surprise

A day after the U.S. Senate went on the record with a bipartisan rebuke of President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. military forces from both Syria and Afghanistan, the top military commander for the Mideast acknowledged to members of a Senate committee that the President’s announcement in December of a pullout from Syria had come as a surprise.

“You weren’t consulted before that decision was announced,” asked Sen. Angus King (I-ME).

“I was not consulted,” said General Joseph Votel, the head of the military’s Central Command, which is responsible for military action in Syria.

“I was not aware of the specific announcement,” Votel added, though the general indicated that President Trump had made clear his ‘desire and intent’ in the past to get the military out of Syria.

The December decision by President Trump led directly to the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis – originally, the President wanted Mattis to stay on for several months, but Mr. Trump pushed Mattis out a few weeks later, aggravated by the Secretary’s resignation letter, which criticized the President’s decision.

Asked further about when the withdrawal would take place, General Votel said the Pentagon will follow his orders.

“I am not under pressure to be out by a specific date,” Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing. “I have not had any specific demands put upon me.”

A number of GOP Senators have expressed public concerns with the withdrawal decisions by the President, worried that it will leave a power vacuum for Iran, al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and Russia.

“We simply cannot afford to leave a vacuum in places where terrorists flood when they take advantage of the chaos and the upheaval in the Syrian civil war,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

“This is a very dangerous situation,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, and the President’s plan for a U.S. withdrawal. “That’s why this is a bad idea.”

A handful of Republicans stuck with the President on his call for a withdrawal, arguing that the U.S. must not remain engaged in what critics label an ‘endless war.’

“This resolution is an insult to the President,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

You can see the breakdown of the Senate vote here.

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