WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - On Sunday, following lunch with President Donald Trump, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R, South Carolina) explained that Trump would make sure “that our allies, the Kurds, are protected,” as the President refashions his plan for a quick withdrawal of US forces from Syria.
Trump’s visit to Iraq on Wednesday, in which he met with US commanders at al-Asad Air Base, was an “eye-opener,” Graham told journalists in a press conference outside the White House.
“The commanders” told him that “ISIS was in a world of hurt,” Graham said, “not completely destroyed, but well on the way.”
Trump, understanding now that the Islamic State (IS) is not yet defeated, assured the Senator that “he’s going to be sure he gets the job done,” Graham said, before describing two other objectives Trump is now pursuing in Syria.
“You got the Kurds that we need to be concerned about,” Graham stated. “They stepped up when nobody else would, and [the President] is very aware of that problem.”
In addition, the US needs to ensure “Iran doesn’t become the big winner of our leaving.”
Underscoring the importance of the three goals, Graham highlighted them in a subsequent tweet.
The President will make sure any withdrawal from Syria will be done in a fashion to ensure:— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) December 30, 2018
1) ISIS is permanently destroyed.
2) Iran doesn’t fill in the back end, and
3) our Kurdish allies are protected.
Earlier, before his lunch with Trump, Graham spoke on a CNN Sunday talk show and revealed that Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and America’s most senior US military officer, had given him a phone call.
Dunford explained to Graham that he had talked with Trump “and the President is reconsidering how we do this.”
In his public statements, both on CNN and later outside the White House, Graham repeatedly stressed it was an important US interest not to desert its Kurdish allies.
“If we leave the Kurds and abandon them, they get slaughtered, and who’s going to help you in the future?” he asked.
Along with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D. New Hampshire), Graham visited Manbij last summer. The two lawmakers were extremely impressed with what they saw.
Graham told local leaders, “I will tell President Trump that it is important that we stay here to help you,” adding, “you’re friends of the United States, and if we leave, it will be terrible.”
In speaking to reporters on Sunday after his lunch with Trump, Graham suggested that the US might make some changes to its military posture in Syria to accommodate Turkish objections to the leading role that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have played within the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF.)
Graham explained that Trump would be “talking to Turkey about assuring [the Turks] that they will have a buffer zone,” given “their concerns about the YPG Kurds.”
A Turkish delegation is to visit Washington on January 8, while US National Security Adviser, Amb. John Bolton, is slated to visit Turkey and Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is close to Trump, and Israeli officials have not complained publicly about Trump’s decision to withdraw quickly from Syria. However, informed Israeli political commentators have done so and on the same grounds that Graham described on Sunday.
Among the “potential dangers,” Graham explained, is “having a superhighway from Tehran to Beirut” for “delivering weapons into Lebanon,” from where Hizbollah can attack Israel.
Bassam Ishak, Washington representative for the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the SDF’s political wing, told Kurdistan 24, “We do appreciate Sen. Graham’s efforts,” noting that the Senator “has been to our region” and understands the situation well.
Ishak emphasized that like the US, “We want to see ISIS completely defeated,” even as he noted that “military defeat alone is not enough.” We have “to make sure” that “ISIS won’t be resurrected in the future.”
That perspective is also US military doctrine. In fighting an enemy like the Islamic State, it is not enough to deal it a temporary military defeat. It is also necessary to establish a “hold force”—a local administration capable of preventing the terrorist organization from returning.
Ishak concluded his comment by reiterating the SDC’s appreciation of Graham’s efforts, adding, “We hope that he is right.”
Paul Davis, a former Pentagon analyst and currently a Senior Fellow at Soran University, similarly welcomed Graham’s statements.
“It was a mistake,” Davis told Kurdistan 24, “and I’m glad to see it’s being corrected through Trump listening to the field commander [in Iraq] and to people like Lindsey Graham.” Trump seems now “to understand that ISIS is not defeated” and “we need to stand by allies, like the Kurds.”
“We can’t just abandon them and expect that it won’t have consequences for us,” Davis affirmed.
On Friday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R, Florida) offered the first public suggestion that Trump was reconsidering his plan for a speedy withdrawal, but provided few details, beyond saying the pace had been “slowed.”
Editing by Nadia Riva
(Wladimir van Wilgenburg contributed to the report.)