Sen. Lindsey Graham, a key ally of President Donald Trump, led a group of bipartisan congressmen in confronting Defense Secretary Mark Esper over the administration’s idea to withdraw troops from part of Africa, NBC News reported Tuesday.
The fiery exchange took place over the weekend on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, according to four people familiar with the meeting and included a warning that there would be consequences if the policy was carried out.
Graham and his Democratic colleague Chris Coons, who are both members of the Foreign Relations Committee, insisted to Esper that Congress would not back an American troop withdrawal from the Sahel region, a huge area south of the Sahara Desert that includes several nations battling international terrorist groups.
They argued that the number of American troops there is small, the cost to deploy them is low and that withdrawal would abandon a major ally in France, whose army is leading the fight against the terrorists there.
The congressmen also said that this is the exact model the Trump administration has been pressing for, where another country leads militarily while the U.S. backs the effort, so it would make no sense to abandon an arena in which that arrangement is working.
Graham, while a major supporter of the president, also criticized in October Trump’s decision to withdraw forces from northern Syria as an abandonment of Kurdish allies and a gift to Iran, the National Review pointed out.
Esper has explained that he is trying to carry out the National Defense Strategy, which cites Russia and China are the biggest strategic competitors to the U.S. and is thus attempting to shift American troop priorities accordingly, according to NBC.
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