Graham calls for hearings on troops in Syria, Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Friday called for immediate U.S. Senate hearings on President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw all American troops from Syria, which prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters he wanted to hear directly from Mattis at any hearing. Mattis announced plans on Thursday to depart in a candid resignation letter to Trump that laid bare the growing divide between them.

A Senate hearing could also cover Trump administration officials saying on Thursday that there were plans to drawdown about 5,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Graham, who over the past year or so has been a staunch supporter of Trump, has broken with him on the Syria decision.

Heading to a meeting of Republican senators, Graham said, "In lunch I'm going to ask for hearings like right now about Syria." Trump said Islamic State had been defeated there so it was time to withdraw U.S. forces.

Graham made clear that he also was worried about a possible U.S. troop reduction in Afghanistan, where 14,000 troops are deployed in what is America's longest war at 17 years.

"I dare anybody to say that ISIS-K is defeated in Afghanistan," Graham said, referring to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province, a branch of Islamic State, active in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Part of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' resignation letter to President Donald Trump is photographed in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. Mattis is stepping down from his post, Trump announced, after the retired Marine general clashed with the president over a troop drawdown in Syria and Trump's go-it-alone stance in world affairs. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
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Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., right, joins Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, center, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, left, in an Instagram Live post before they participate in a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, on prison reform legislation. A criminal justice bill passed in the Senate gives judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders and boosts prisoner rehabilitation efforts. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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President Donald Trump walks with an umbrella from Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, after visiting during Wreaths Across America Day. Wreaths Across America was started in 1992 at Arlington National Cemetery by Maine businessman Morrill Worcester and has expanded to hundreds of veterans' cemeteries and other locations in all 50 states and beyond. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 19: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge (accompanied by his nanny María Borrallo) attend a Christmas lunch for members of the Royal Family hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace on December 19, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
Contestants congratulate new Miss Universe Catriona Gray, center, from Philippines during the final round of 67th Miss Universe competition in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Dec. 17, 2018.(AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
A picture taken on December 17, 2018 in Herrlisheim shows jewish headstones tagged with swastika symbol at a Jewish cemetery, eastern France. - 37 headstones and a memorial for Shoah victims have been desacrated overnight December 10, 2018. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP) (Photo credit should read SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP/Getty Images)
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The group "is a bigger threat this year than they were last year. It is clear to me that ISIS-K is plotting to hit America," Graham said.

Graham said cutting U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan would leave "too few to accomplish the mission of holding Afghanistan together and protecting America from another attack and it's too many to be hostages and sitting ducks" there.

The United States went to war in Afghanistan in 2001 in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, seeking to oust the Taliban militants harboring Saudi-raised militant Osama bin Laden, who led plans to carry out the attacks.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by James Dalgleish and Grant McCool)

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