WASHINGTON — Oklahoma’s senior senator and the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee broke ranks with President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said he is waiting for “further information,” but said he believes the U.S. priority should be to defeat ISIS.
“I agree that we cannot engage in unending conflict, but steps must be taken to prevent a security vacuum in northeastern Syria that would benefit terrorists, Putin, and Iran, and harm our national security interests,” Inhofe said in a statement.
Inhofe said he has already spoken to the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and is “looking forward to,” continuing conversations with the President and Esper.
“I have long believed that our policy should reflect conditions on the ground,” Inhofe said. He also called for the U.S. to work with NATO ally Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Horn also expressed concern for Kurdish allies and said they have been one of the closest partners against ISIS. The democratic representative sits on the House Committee on Armed Services and is vice chair for the subcommittee on strategic forces.
“Abandoning our allies sends the message that the U.S. is an unpredictable and unreliable partner in the fight against terror, and it bolsters Russian efforts to destabilize the region,” said Horn in a press release.
She also said that withdrawing will place both American and Kurdish troops in danger.
“This irresponsible action weakens our interests in the Middle East, and it will undermine American gains over the last five years in the fight against ISIS,” Horn said.
Cole, a senior member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, in a statement called Trump’s decision “a risky move.”
“This policy … will not only undo significant gains but may well invite aggression by other bad actors and terrorists,” Cole said in a statement.
Cole said pulling out from the region could cause high instability and leave allies — the Kurdish fighters — alone in the fight to defeat ISIS in Syria.
“For the safety of our homeland and security of our allies, we must remain supportive of the Syrian Democratic Forces who have fought alongside us, rather than ceding ground to a dangerous enemy,” Cole said.
In the past, Inhofe has supported Trump’s decisions in Syria, including the airstrikes in 2017. President Trump said the Shayrat missile strike was in response to the chemical attacks on civilians shortly prior.
“It’s something that he (Trump) had to do. He couldn’t sit around and talk about it and go to the media, and go to everyone to see if everyone’s going to be in agreement. Every one of the allies in the free world is supporting us,” said Inhofe in 2017.
This past February, Inhofe released a press statement as the chairman of the Armed Services committee supporting the President’s decision to keep troops in Syria.
“President Trump’s decision to keep some troops in Syria ensures that any draw down reflects conditions on the ground. I commend his commitment to coordinate with Turkey to ensure stability in the region,” he said this past spring.
Cole and Inhofe are known as strong Trump supporters.
In a tweet, Trump held fast to his decision.
“We may be in the process of leaving Syria, but in no way have we Abandoned the Kurds… Likewise our relationship with Turkey, a NATO and Trading partner, has been very good,” Trump tweeted.
Lankford: ‘Make sure that we’re not allowing ISIS to go expand’
While Inhofe criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria, Oklahoma’s junior senator was more hesitant to take a stance.
“We have 1,000 troops, they’re currently on the ground fighting ISIS (…) that is exceptionally important. We don’t have to be the only force that’s doing that,” James Lankford (R-OK) said.
Lankford, who serves on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he supports withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, but was less clear about how quickly those forces should be pulled back.
“We’ve already cut the forces in half in the past year that was in Syria, so the key aspect is, however we pull out our forces, we need to make sure that we’re not allowing ISIS to go expand again quickly,” Lankford said.
The Oklahoma senator also said he didn’t want citizens to blame Trump “every time that there’s an ISIS attack,” because the president chose to pull out of Syria.
“There’s no question, if ISIS is given a home place at some point… then they will plan and organize and carry out terrorist attacks across the region and in all likelihood to the United States,” Lankford said.
Lankford said he doesn’t expect the move from Syria to directly affect Oklahomans, but he said things could change.
“We’re all kind of watching to be able to see because no one really knows what the Turks are going to do, or the region that they’re going to try to move into,” Lankford said. “People have a lot of suspicions and a lot of fears, but no one really knows at this point.”
(Update: This story was updated at 11:47 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9, to include comments from Sen. James Lankford.)