WASHINGTON ― U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham on Friday called any plans for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan “absurd” and warned the U.S. presence is an “insurance policy against the reemergence of al-Qaeda/ISIS types,” using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
“I hope the Trump Administration will not give into absurd Taliban demands for US withdrawal within 18 months ― regardless of conditions on the ground,” Graham, R-S.C., said in a series of tweets Friday morning. Graham posted a Reuters article from January that said the U.S. had offered a troop withdrawal over 18 months.
The comments came a day after U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad visited Capitol Hill and several weeks after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed the U.S. is prepared to remove American forces from Afghanistan, but did not say when.
Last month, Khalilzad opened a new round of talks with the Taliban in Doha, which were expected to focus on formulating a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, and on a Taliban guarantee that militants will not plot attacks from Afghan soil.
Graham, an ally of President Donald Trump and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has over recent months tried to convince Trump that pulling out of Afghanistan too soon might trigger a second 9/11.
“We now have a small US military footprint, along with our allies, that is an insurance policy against the reemergence of al-Qaeda/ISIS types and help hold Afghanistan together,” Graham tweeted. “How Afghanistan turns out is vitally important to our own national security interests as this is the place it all started on 9/11. We need a good deal, not a fake deal.”
As recently as June 21, Trump said he wanted a withdrawal from Afghanistan. “I said I want to get out of these endless wars, I campaigned on that. We’ve been in Afghanistan 19 years. As you know, we’ve reduced very substantially in Afghanistan,” he said at the time.
Nearly all of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have come out in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
On Thursday, Khalilzad met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. He visited with the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat and senior appropriator, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, in the senator’s office to discuss the status of peace talks.
“The war in Afghanistan is now the longest in US history and I support Khalilzad’s efforts to find a negotiated resolution,” Durbin tweeted alongside pictures of the meeting.
Gen. Mark Milley, Trump’s nominee for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in congressional testimony July 11 that there had been “some progress” recently toward the end of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, through a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.
The ongoing peace talks are being underwritten by the U.S. troop presence, and leaving prematurely would be a strategic mistake, Milley said.
“I think it is slow, it’s painful, it’s hard, but I also think it is necessary,” Milley said. “We went to Afghanistan for a single purpose: to make sure it never again becomes a platform for a terrorist strike in the United States of America like 9/11. There hasn’t been one, and we’ve been successful to date.”
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.