Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the White House's strongest allies in Congress, urged President Trump not to order a military withdrawal from Afghanistan, warning that a large-scale drawdown from the war-torn country could pose a grave threat to U.S. national security.
"I am concerned that the president, in his desire to get out, is going to make the same mistake that President Obama did in Iraq," Graham said on "Face the Nation" Sunday. "I don't want you to be like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. I want you to take good, sound military advice."
The South Carolina Republican said Mr. Trump should not be in lockstep on this issue with Democrats running for the party's presidential nomination. Many of the Democrats vying to challenge the president in 2020 have vowed to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan, where the U.S. has had a large military presence for nearly two decades.
Since a U.S.-led coalition invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and toppled the Taliban government — which was harboring al-Qaeda militants — the U.S. has been entangled in what has become the longest war in American history. Ethnic strife within the country, a fragile government in Kabul and a determined insurgency from Taliban militants have prompted Republican and Democratic presidents to keep a large troop presence in the country.
Although Mr. Trump has veered from Republican orthodoxy on foreign policy and advocated for a more isolationist approach on the world stage, his administration has kept about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. For the past months, the Trump administration has been holding peace talks with Taliban representatives. But a concrete deal has proved elusive, with hostilities continuing and the Taliban refusing so far to negotiate directly with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
Reports have surfaced recently that the president has grown impatient about the seemingly intractable conflict. Before taking office, he advocated for a full withdrawal from Afghanistan, casting the war there as an unnecessary waste of money for the U.S.
Mentioning the deaths of more than a dozen U.S. service members in Afghanistan this year, Graham praised Mr. Trump for striving to undertake the "noble endeavor" of lowering the cost of war. But he maintained that U.S. military presence in the country is of utmost importance and represents an "insurance policy" against another terrorist plot like the 9/11 attacks.
"They act as a virtual wall against ISIS and al-Qaeda. You may get a peace deal with the Taliban, but you'll never get a peace deal with al-Qaeda or ISIS. They have an intent to strike America. They just don't have the capability yet," Graham said. "If we leave and outsource our national security to the Taliban that they're gonna take care of al-Qaeda and ISIS, that would be a disastrous decision."
To safeguard U.S. national security and quell any potential attempts by ISIS and al-Qaeda to take advantage of a drawdown of U.S. military units, Graham said the administration needs to keep at least 8,600 troops in the country.
"To go below that I think would be really risky," he said.