President Trump’s counterterrorism strategy draws ire from US senators.
A series of events in the Middle East and Africa has stirred new questions about President Trump’s counterterrorism strategy as the US focus in Iraq and Syria shifts to stabilization. According to the Hill, some senators are questioning the long-term goals the US has as it fights around the globe.
“We have no strategy,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain said this week. McCain was referring to Iraq, but he has leveled the criticism at Trump’s approach around the world. Government forces and militias reportedly clashed with Kurdish forces in the city of Kirkuk, which Kurds briefly had under their control. The fighting has prompted questions in Congress about whether the US has planned to mitigate sectarian violence after the fall of ISIS.
While US-backed forces claimed victory in ISIS’s de-facto capital of Raqqa, a hard-fought win that nonetheless raises questions about the US stabilization plans in a country that remains marred in civil war. When asked about the United States’s view on the Syrian government having a role in Raqqa, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called that a “hypothetical,” and said the focus now is on providing locals with basic human needs. Asked about the post-ISIS plans for Syria, McCain said this week that “there is no strategy in Syria that I know of.” Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said it appears to him there have been no conversations in the U.S. government about what Raqqa looks like after the fall of ISIS. “It seems we have absolutely no plan for what happens after we push ISIS firmly out of the cities,” he said. “ISIS isn’t going to go away. They are simply going to wait until the reconstruction and efforts at political settlement fail to reemerge.” Murphy also said the United States has empowered the Kurds in both Syria and Iraq without having a plan for what inevitably comes next — their desire for an independent state.
“The Kurds, Iraqis, Iranians, Shia militia, it’s all a jumble,” McCain said. To sort it out, he said, the United States needs to “develop a strategy to win, which we have not.”
The Pentagon is investigating the circumstances surrounding a deadly ambush of a U.S. patrol in Niger that left four soldiers dead, which also drew a lot of attention to the little-noticed counterterrorism operations in Africa, leading to questions about whether the US has a larger strategy there. McCain has blamed the administration for failing to provide his committee with information, bringing up the possibility that a subpoena may be necessary.
Senator Lindsey Graham, an Armed Services Committee member and ally of McCain, voiced support for operations in Niger, saying that “we don’t want the next 9/11 to come from Niger.” But he reiterated that Congress needs to be kept apprised of the mission.