The top U.S. general in charge of military operations in the Middle East on Tuesday said he was not consulted prior to President Donald Trump’s abrupt public announcement that he would withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria.
“I was not aware of the specific announcement,” U.S. Central Command (Centcom) commander Gen. Joseph Votel said while appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“Certainly we are aware that he has expressed a desire and an intent in the past to depart Syria,” he added.
“So you were not consulted before that decision was announced?” asked Sen. Angus King (I-Maine).
“We were not — I was not consulted,” Votel replied.
This morning, I asked Gen. Joseph Votel, the Commander of U.S. Central Command, if he was aware of the President’s plan to withdraw troops from Syria prior to the WH announcement.
His answer? “I was not consulted.” pic.twitter.com/2O0iJxvX5s
— Senator Angus King (@SenAngusKing) February 5, 2019
Votel also warned that taking pressure off ISIS could allow the terrorist group to resurge.
Just last week, the top U.S. intelligence officials also told the Senate Intelligence Committee that ISIS “will exploit any reduction in [counterterrorism] pressure to strengthen its clandestine presence and accelerate rebuilding key capabilities.”
On Monday, the lead inspector general for Operation Inherent Resolve, quoting an answer from Centcom, reported that ISIS “could likely resurge in Syria within six to twelve months and regain limited territory” without continued pressure.
Votel also warned on Tuesday that he expects the physical territory of ISIS to be entirely retaken by the time U.S. forces withdraw.
He also reported that ISIS’ territorial control is down to less than 20 square miles, down from a height of 34,000 square miles.
“It is important to understand that even though this territory has been reclaimed, the fight against ISIS and violent extremists is not over and our mission has not changed,” he said.
“The coalition’s hard-won battlefield gains can only be secured by maintaining a vigilant offensive against a now largely dispersed and disaggregated ISIS that retains leaders, fighters, facilitators, resources and the profane ideology that fuels their efforts.”
Asked by Senate Armed Services ranking member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) whether he agrees that ISIS will have a “renewed vigor” without sustained pressure, Votel replied, “I do agree.”
“The fact is the president made a decision, and we are going to execute his orders here to withdraw from Syria,” Votel said. “And as we do that, we are going to do that in a very deliberate manner. We are going to do that in conjunction with our campaign plan.
“And we are going to consider things like protection of our partners, the Kurds. We are going to consider that concerns that Turkey has along their border. And we are going to consider how we keep pressure on ISIS. And all of that is taking place right.”