CAPITOL HILL - The White House's announcement that U.S. troops are withdrawing from Syria caught U.S. lawmakers by surprise and angered some of President Donald Trump's top allies on Capitol Hill.
"I can't tell you that it is the right time [to withdraw from Syria], because I didn't know this was going to happen," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, told VOA. "I was not consulted, and I think I should have been consulted."
"It blindsided me," South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham said. "I'm meeting today with the secretary of defense [Jim Mattis]. I don't know what they've done, but this is chaos."
In a tweet early Wednesday, Trump referenced the fight against the Islamic State terror group, saying, "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency."
Lawmakers questioned the White House decision.
"Did the president do this with the advice of military leadership, against the advice of military leadership?" Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine said. "Does the military leadership now say that ISIS is such a non-threat that we don't need to worry about it, or somebody else is going to take care of it? Turkey? We don't know the answers to those questions."
Republican Senator Rand Paul, a member of the chamber's Committee on Foreign Relations, was one of the few lawmakers to praise the move.
I am happy to see a President who can declare victory and bring our troops out of a war. It’s been a long time since that has happened. https://t.co/fEBb8080fK— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) December 19, 2018
But even senators who long have had misgivings about America's military campaign in Syria absent congressional authorization found the president's announcement perplexing.
"There's no question the ISIS, the caliphate, is shrinking, but they still have a presence in Syria," Ben Cardin, a senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told VOA. "I'm one who questions our authorization for our troops being there, but clearly this administration and the previous administration have taken the position that we need to have a military presence against ISIS. And my guess is that ISIS still has an influence in Syria.
"Dealing with terrorism, dealing with ISIS, we've made a tremendous investment, and we've got to make sure the job is done," he added.
"You could pull all the ground troops out and still be running missile strikes against the Syrian government, or air campaigns against the Syrian military, and I would find that objectionable without a congressional authorization," Kaine said. "So, I don't know that the removal of 2,000 ground troops means that we are not going to be engaged."
Graham, a fierce advocate of continued U.S. military engagement in Syria, said Trump is making a grave error.
"A lot of people applaud withdrawing troops no matter where they are from. [Former President Barack] Obama got a lot of applause when he withdrew from Iraq, but I have the same feeling about this that I did in Iraq — over time, this is not going to play well," Graham said. "I saw the president's tweet. I could not disagree more. I don't think they [ISIS] is defeated in Syria or Iraq, and I know they're not defeated in Afghanistan. I think this is a serious miscalculation to think that conditions warrant our withdrawal. We're all at risk from the emergence of ISIS."