'Obama-like mistake': Republicans slam Trump over plan to withdraw troops from Syria

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is facing harsh criticism from fellow Republicans over his decision to declare victory over the Islamic State and withdraw U.S. forces from Syria.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close Trump ally, said it would be an "Obama-like mistake" to remove American troops. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called it a "grave error" and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said Trump's declaration that ISIS has been defeated is "simply not true."

"An American withdrawal at this time would be a big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia," Graham said in a statement. "I fear it will lead to devastating consequences for our nation, the region, and throughout the world."

Earlier in the day, two senior defense officials and a third person familiar with the plan told NBC News that the U.S. is preparing to withdraw a significant number of the roughly 2,000 troops that remain in Syria.

Trump has been telegraphing the move for most of the past year at campaign rallies and in other venues.

"We're knocking the hell out of ISIS," he said in March. "We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now."

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Destruction in Syria after US-led airstrikes
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Destruction in Syria after US-led airstrikes
A Syrian soldier sprays water on the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian soldier sprays water on the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. FIFTH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS - APRIL 14: In this handout released by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) fires a Tomahawk land attack missile at Syria as part of an allied strike April 14, 2018. Monterey is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region. President Donald Trump has ordered a joint force strike on Syria with Britain and France over the recent suspected chemical attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.(Photo by Matthew Daniels/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
A journalist films the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on April 14, 2018 shows the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. FIFTH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS - APRIL 14: In this handout released by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) fires a Tomahawk land attack missile at Syria as part of an allied strike April 14, 2018. Monterey is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region. President Donald Trump has ordered a joint force strike on Syria with Britain and France over the recent suspected chemical attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.(Photo by Matthew Daniels/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
This picture taken on April 14, 2018 shows the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian soldiers inspect the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A Syrian soldier inspects the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Syrian soldiers inspect the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian soldiers extinguish a fire in the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian soldier inspects the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
A journalist inspects the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian soldier takes a picture of the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Journalists inspects the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Journalists take pictures of the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian soldier inspects the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on April 14, 2018 shows the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian government forces wait for vehicles carrying Jaish al-Islam fighters and their family members evacuated from the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma, to arrive at the Wafideen crossing on April 14, 2018. Rebels in Syria's Eastern Ghouta surrendered their heavy weapons and their leader left the enclave, a monitor said, signalling the end of one of the bloodiest assaults of Syria's seven-year war. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on April 14, 2018 shows the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
The destroyed Scientific Research Centre is seen in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
The destroyed Scientific Research Centre is seen in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
A Syrian military officer records a video inside the destroyed Scientific Research Centre in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
A Syrian firefighter is seen inside the destroyed Scientific Research Centre in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Syrian firefighters are seen inside the destroyed Scientific Research Centre in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
A Syrian firefighter is seen inside the destroyed Scientific Research Centre in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
The destroyed Scientific Research Centre is seen in Damascus, Syria April 14,2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
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On Wednesday, he tweeted news of the withdrawal decision: "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency."

Trump allies have long believed that the defeat of ISIS makes for a compelling campaign narrative for a president who promised to reduce American interventionism as he seeks re-election in 2020. Before last month's midterms, there was a more immediate risk that a withdrawal followed by a flare-up in violence in the region could have negative political consequences for Republican candidates.

Still, several GOP lawmakers issued blistering rebukes of Trump's decision on the policy merits Wednesday. The basic argument is that the removal of U.S. forces will create a power vacuum that could empower Iran, Syria, Russia, terrorist groups or some combination thereof.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who is up for re-election in 2020 in a state that has been trending toward Democrats, pressed Trump to reconsider.

Rubio said there are three reasons why it's a "colossal mistake" to withdraw from Syria: ISIS has been converted into an insurgency and will be a more powerful one without the U.S. presence, Syria will fall more under the control of Russia and Iran without U.S. forces and the U.S. will be more readily seen as an "unreliable ally" by the rest of the world.

"I just think it's a bad decision that eventually will lead to greater risk for the United States," Rubio said. "I'm all for peace. I would love to live in a world in which U.S. deployment of service men and women abroad were not necessary. That's not the world we live in."

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