McConnell Defies Trump With Proposal to Keep Troops in Syria, Afghanistan

Mitch McConnell

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The Islamic State group maintains a force of thousands of fighters who pose a potent threat in the Middle East as its leaders continue to encourage attacks on the West, a top USA intelligence official warned Tuesday.

In an apparent pushback to the White House, McConnell said Tuesday the USA was not "the world's policeman" but was the "leader of the free world".

Though the bill doesn't directly address the planned withdrawal of US troops that the president announced last month, lawmakers are expected to join McConnell and introduce amendments to address the issue.

There was no immediate word on when the Senate might vote on whether to pass the bill, including the amendment.

The Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act encompasses five bills in a package and includes fresh sanctions against Syria's central bank and individuals backing the Syrian government.

Dan Coats, Trump's director of national intelligence, testified before the Senate Tuesday that intelligence officials have no evidence to conclude that Iran is close to producing a nuclear weapon - contradicting Trump's claim that Iran is "coming very close to the edge". However, there was no sign the group had accepted key United States demands such as committing to a ceasefire before a withdrawal of USA troops.

"ISIS still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria, and it maintains eight branches, more than a dozen networks, and thousands of dispersed supporters around the world, despite significant leadership and territorial losses", Coats said in a new report to Congress, using an alternate name for the group.

President Donald Trump must produce a comprehensive plan to guarantee the protection of Kurdish allies in Syria from massacre by Turkish troops once United States forces leave the region, two senators wrote in a letter to the White House on Thursday.

At the same hearing, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said that ISIS has lost "99.5 per cent plus" of the territory it held in Syria and Iraq, adding that "within a couple of weeks it will be 100 per cent"."ISIS is no longer able to govern in Syria, ISIS no longer has freedom to mass forces, Syria is no longer a safe haven", he said.

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