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US senator wants Trump to rethink Syria withdrawal, receives some reassurance

Graham emerges from meeting and says Trump promised to stay in Syria to finish job of destroying Islamic State
Senator Lindsey Graham criticises Trump's order for pullout of US troops from Syria (AFP/file photo)

A senior Republican senator said he would try to persuade US President Donald Trump at a White House lunch on Sunday to reconsider his order for a total US military pullout from Syria and leave some troops there, and later emerged from the meeting saying he felt more reassured.

Senator Lindsey Graham warned that removing all US forces would hurt US security by allowing the Islamic State (IS) group to rebuild, betraying US-backed Kurdish fighters battling remnants of the militant group, and enhancing Iran's ability to threaten Israel, AFP said.

The South Carolina Republican said he would ask Trump "to sit down with his generals and reconsider how to do this. Slow this down. Make sure we get it right. Make sure ISIS never comes back. Don't turn Syria over to the Iranians." Graham used a different acronym for IS.

"I want to fight the war in the enemy's backyard, not ours," Graham said in an interview on CNN's Sunday morning State of the Union show.

Graham, who also appeared on ABC's This Week, said: "If we leave now, the Kurds will get slaughtered," adding: "I'm going to ask the president to do something that President Obama would never do: reconsider."

Graham praised Trump, who visited US troops in Iraq last week, for announcing that a US force would remain there. But he said IS, while holding only slivers of territory, remained a potent threat in northeastern Syria.

"That's why we need to keep some of our troops there," he said.

Later in the afternoon, Graham emerged from the White House meeting and said that Trump had promised to stay in Syria to finish the job of destroying IS - just days after announcing he would be withdrawing troops immediately.

"The president understands the need to finish the job," Graham told reporters after what he described as a two-hour lunch meeting.

The Pentagon says it is considering plans for a "deliberate and controlled withdrawal." One option, according to a person familiar with the discussions, is for a 120-day pullout period.

Kellyanne Conway, a close Trump adviser, seemed to hint that the president may be tweaking his withdrawal plans, Reuters said.

"In Iraq he had a closed-door meeting and he said watch what happens... Watch what happens because he's got plans and I won't get ahead of his announcement, but he did want me to convey that," she said on "Fox News Sunday."

"This president is cleaning up the mess left by the last administration, which never took the threat of ISIS seriously," she said.

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Graham, an influential lawmaker on national security policy who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is an ally of Trump, although he has opposed some of his foreign policy decisions.

He has joined other Republicans and Democrats in criticising Trump's order for the pullout of all 2,000 US troops deployed in Syria in support of anti-IS fighters made up mostly of Kurds.

Turkey views the Kurdish militia, known as the YPG, as a branch of its own Kurdish separatist movement. It is threatening to launch an offensive against the YPG, igniting fears of significant civilian casualties.

US commanders planning the withdrawal are recommending that YPG fighters battling IS be allowed to keep US-supplied weapons, according to US officials. That proposal would likely anger NATO ally Turkey, where Tump's national security adviser, John Bolton, will hold talks this week.

Trump decided on the Syria withdrawal in a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, ignoring the advice of top national security aides and without consulting lawmakers or US allies participating in anti-IS operations. The decision prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign.

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