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Veterans in Congress attack Trump’s case for withdrawing troops from Syria and Afghanistan
Top defense officials could not hide the daylight between the Pentagon and President Donald Trump on Wednesday as they faced withering questions from veterans in Congress about the president's plans to withdraw from Syria and eventually Afghanistan.
The tense House Armed Services Committee hearing reached its climax during an exchange between Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Owen West, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict.
"Mr. West, your former boss Secretary [James] Mattis disagreed with the president's plan to withdraw from Syria," said Moulton, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq. "Do you think he was wrong?"
After a pause, West approached his microphone and answered, "No sir."
Moulton was one of several veterans serving in Congress who picked apart the president's rationale for leaving Syria and Afghanistan on Wednesday.
Earlier in the hearing, Moulton had pressed Air Force Maj. Gen. James Hecker, vice director of operations for the Joint Staff, about how the U.S. military could keep its boot on ISIS' neck if all troops left Syria.
Hecker conceded that the U.S. military would be in "a very difficult situation" but would work with the Syrian Democratic Forces as well as surrounding countries, including Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey, to help allied forces inside Syria without having any of its own forces inside the country.
"So, general, what you are saying is it does not keep up the pressure; and so therefore, it's going to be difficult to do so," Moulton countered.
"No," Hecker replied, "I said it's going to be difficult to keep up the pressure. But that's what we're doing …"
But Moulton interrupted to ask Hecker, "Do you disagree with my statement that it does not keep up the pressure to withdraw from Syria?"
"I will say there that will be a decrease in the amount of pressure that we'll be able to apply, but we'll still be able to apply pressure," Hecker said.
"OK, we're playing a game of semantics here, but it's pretty clear it decreases the pressure," Moulton shot back.
During his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Trump did not say when U.S. troops will be returning from Syria and Afghanistan, but he called for an end to "endless wars" and said it was "time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home."
However, lawmakers from the president's own party expressed skepticism on Wednesday about withdrawing troops from either country.
Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) argued at Wednesday's hearing that U.S. special operations forces would not enjoy the same successful relationship with Syrian Arab and Kurdish forces if they could no longer fight alongside them.
A former Green Beret, Waltz asked how pulling all troops from Syria would affect the U.S. military's mission to advise and assist allied forces.
"Sir, militarily, we will be less effective," West replied.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), a former Navy reservist, continued the bipartisan bludgeoning by getting West to acknowledge that ISIS-Khorasan is growing in Afghanistan.
While special operations forces have not been ordered to withdraw some or all of its troops from Afghanistan, "A significant or sudden drawdown of our counter terror ability or footprint would be a risk," West said.
WATCH NEXT: President Trump Discusses Syria
Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher will retire as a chief petty officer now that President Donald Trump has restored his rank.
"Before the prosecution of Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher, he had been selected for promotion to Senior Chief, awarded a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor, and assigned to an important position in the Navy as an instructor," a White House statement said.
"Though ultimately acquitted on all of the most serious charges, he was stripped of these honors as he awaited his trial and its outcome. Given his service to our Nation, a promotion back to the rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Officer is justified."
The announcement that Gallagher is once again an E-7 effectively nullifies the Navy's entire effort to prosecute Gallagher for allegedly committing war crimes. It is also the culmination of Trump's support for the SEAL throughout the legal process.
On July 2, military jurors found Gallagher not guilty of premeditated murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing a wounded ISIS fighter to death and opening fire at an old man and a young girl on separate occasions during his 2017 deployment to Iraq.
Trump orders dismissal of murder charge against former Green Beret accused of killing a suspected Taliban bomb maker
President Donald Trump has ended the decade-long saga of Maj. Matthew Golsteyn by ordering a murder charge against the former Green Beret dismissed with a full pardon.
The Army charged Golsteyn with murder in December 2018 after he repeatedly acknowledged that he killed an unarmed Afghan man in 2010. Golsteyn's charge sheet identifies the man as "Rasoul."
President Donald Trump has signed a full pardon for former 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who had been convicted of murder for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men, two of whom were killed.
Lorance will now be released from the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he had been serving a 19-year sentence.
"He has served more than six years of a 19-year sentence he received. Many Americans have sought executive clemency for Lorance, including 124,000 people who have signed a petition to the White House, as well as several members of Congress," said a White House statement released Friday.
"The President, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted. For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history. As the President has stated, 'when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight.'"
Additionally, Trump pardoned Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who was to go on trial for murder charges next year, and restored the rank of Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, who was found not guilty of murdering a wounded ISIS prisoner but convicted of taking an unauthorized photo with the corpse.
Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth first announced on Nov. 4 that the president was expected to intervene in the Lorance case was well as exonerate Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who has been charged with murder after he admitted to killing an unarmed Afghan man whom he believed was a Taliban bomb maker, and restore Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher's rank to E-7.
For the past week, members of Lorance's family and his legal team have been holding a constant vigil in Kansas anticipating his release, said Lorance's attorney Don Brown.
Now that he has been exonerated of committing a war crime, Lorance wants to return to active duty, Brown told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.
"He loves the Army," Brown said prior to the president's announcement. "He doesn't have any animosity. He's hoping that his case – and even his time at Leavenworth – can be used for good to deal with some issues regarding rules of engagement on a permanent basis so that our warfighters are better protected, so that we have stronger presumptions favoring warfighters and they aren't treated like criminals on the South Side of Chicago."
In the Starz documentary "Leavenworth," Lorance's platoon members discuss the series of events that took place on July 2, 2012, when the two Afghan men were killed during a patrol in Kandahar province.They claim that Lorance ordered one of his soldiers to fire at three Afghan men riding a motorcycle. The three men got off their motorcycle and started walking toward Afghan troops, who ordered them to return to their motorcycle.
At that point, Lorance ordered the turret gunner on a nearby Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle to shoot the three men, according to the documentary. That order was initially ignored, but the turret gunner eventually opened fire with his M-240, killing two of the men.
But Lorance told the documentary makers that his former soldiers' account of what happened was "ill-informed."
"From my experience of what actually went down, when my guy fired at it, and it kept coming, that signified hostile intent, because he didn't stop immediately," Lorance said in the documentary's second episode.
Brown argues that not only is Lorance innocent of murder, he should never have been prosecuted in the first case.
"He made a call and when you look at the evidence itself, the call was made within a matter of seconds," Brown said "He would make that call again."
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