House votes against bill ordering troop withdrawal from Syria
WASHINGTON– Legislation ordering President Joe Biden to withdraw some 900 US troops from Syria within 180 days was defeated in the House on Wednesday, as opponents of the measure warned it could allow a dismantled Islamic State group to reorganize and endanger the United States and its allies.
The resolution presented by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., was defeated 321-103. Gaetz introduced the measure after four US service members were injured in a helicopter raid last month in northeast Syria that killed a senior IS official. Despite their defeat in Syria, IS sleeper cells are still carrying out attacks around Syria and Iraq where they once declared a “caliphate”.
In arguing for his legislation, Gaetz said he did not believe that “what stands between a caliphate and not a caliphate is the 900 Americans who have been sent to this hell with no definition of victory.”
Congress is increasingly supporting an end to decades-old authorizations for the use of US military force. A Senate panel on Wednesday approved a 13-8 bill that seeks to formally end authorizations for the Gulf and Iraq wars. But Gaetz’s effort was too abrupt for many Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the United States was involved last year in operations with partners that killed 466 ISIS operatives and in arrested 250 others. He said that if the United States withdraws its troops now, it could lead to the resurgence of the Islamic State.
“The withdrawal of this legal and authorized deployment of American troops must be based on the total defeat of ISIS,” McCaul said.
Democratic member of the committee, Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, said he opposes an indefinite U.S. military presence in Syria, but said of Gaetz’s bill: “This measure forces a premature end of our mission at a critical time for our efforts. .”
ISIS lost all territorial control in Iraq and Syria in 2019, following a years-long US-backed campaign that defeated the so-called caliphate, where Raqqa was once the de facto capital of the IS. But militant sleeper cells persist and have since killed dozens of Iraqis and Syrians. Syrian Kurdish and US forces frequently carry out raids targeting IS sleeper cells in northern and eastern Syria.
“The hard truth is this, either we fight them in Syria or we will fight them here,” said Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont. “Either we fight them and defeat them in Syria or we will fight them on the streets of our nation.”
Last week, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, made a surprise visit to Syria to get updates on the US counter-ISIS mission, review force protection measures and assess repatriation efforts from a sprawling refugee camp housing tens of thousands of people. mainly women and children linked to ISIS.
The legislation has drawn support from some of the same conservatives who oppose further aid to Ukraine. Some say the money would be better spent strengthening security at the US-Mexico border.
But the legislation also drew support from several of the more liberal Democratic lawmakers in the chamber. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who voted for the measure, said the bill’s core was to emphasize that it is up to Congress to “determine where and when we will wage war, engage in hostilities “.
In the end, 47 Republicans voted for the bill with 171 opposed, while 56 Democratic lawmakers voted for the bill with 150 opposed.
Associated Press writer Tara Copp contributed to this report.