‘I’m Not Telegraphing Anything’: Trump Defends Talk Of Troop Withdrawals

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February 3, 2019 10:38 a.m.

President Donald Trump on Sunday spoke about his stated plans to withdraw American troops from Syria and Afghanistan, but denied that he was “telegraphing” the military’s plans, an attack he himself used frequently against former President Barack Obama.

“I’m not telegraphing anything,” Trump told CBS’ Margaret Brennan, according to a transcript of the interview published by CBS News.

“When President Obama pulled out of Iraq in theory we had Iraq,” Trump continued. “In other words, we had Iraq. We never had Syria because President Obama never wanted to violate the red line in the sand. So we never had Syria. I was the one that actually violated the red line when I hit Syria with 59 Tomahawk missiles.”

Of Iraq, Trump said “We spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it” — in part because “I want to be able to watch Iran,” he said. On Afghanistan, Trump said he would “leave intelligence there” even after taking out other military personnel.

Trump’s withdrawal decisions have faced Senate rebuke and testimony from intelligence chiefs that contradicts his arguments for pulling troops out of Syria and Afghanistan.

Trump Sunday that “They [intelligence officials] said they were mischaracterized,” though none have claimed as much publicly. He also also seemed to downplay his fierce criticisms of intelligence leaders, especially of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s Worldwide Threat Assessment.

Intelligence leaders’ recent Senate testimony regarding the annual assessment contradicted Trump’s talking points.

“What specifically was wrong about what they said?” Brennan asked, referring to the threat assessment and related testimony.

“Let me just say it wasn’t so much a report,” Trump responded. “It was the questions and answers as the report was submitted and they were asked questions and answers.”

In Afghanistan, he emphasized, “We’ll come back if we have to. We have very fast airplanes, we have very good cargo planes. We can come back very quickly.”

“I’ll leave intelligence there and if I see nests forming, I’ll do something about it,” he said, adding that the Taliban “want peace. They’re tired. Everybody’s tired.”

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