Trump's troop withdrawal divides Florida Republicans and leaves Democrats skeptical

By Steve Contorno, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Political News

TAMPA, Fla. — It has been 14 years since Greg Steube landed in war-torn Iraq to oversee multinational detainees during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He spent two years in a combat zone in the northern region of the country, where he recalled watching fellow service members killed in action.

Steube, now a member of Congress with the power to declare war and fund military missions, said he thinks it's time for America's involvement in the Middle East to end. So when the Department of Defense recently announced a reduction of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Steube, a Sarasota Republican, was for it.

"We will go anywhere in the world you tell us to go, but we will be more successful if you tell us why we're going and what our mission is," said Steube, an officer in the Airborne Infantry and Judge Advocate Generals Corp from 2014 to 2018. "If we don't have a legitimate mission or purpose, we shouldn't be sending our sons and daughters in harms way."

In calling for an end to America's longest war in Afghanistan, Steube is an outlier in his party. Many Republicans expressed outrage at President Donald Trump's late-term push to further draw down the United States' presence in the Middle East. Some called it a retreat, insisting it would leave a void soon to be filled with terrorist organizations.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a fellow Floridian, warned in a recent op-ed that "a hasty exit risks putting American and Afghan lives alike in danger, which could draw us back into yet another prolonged engagement."

"We need to bring our troops home, but we need to do it the right way," Rubio wrote in National Review.


But in Florida, Steube is also not alone. U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican, said, "we cannot let wars drag on indefinitely," adding that he trusted the expertise of America's military leaders who are removing troops from the battlefield. U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of Trump's closest allies, has been among the loudest Republicans calling for an end to the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East that have cost trillions of dollars and more than 7,000 American lives over the past two decades.

Earlier his month, a panel of military advisers from defense think tanks told the House Armed Service Committee, of which Gaetz is a member, that even after two decades of American assistance and training, Afghan forces weren't strong enough to stave off the Taliban and other militant groups on their own.

One expert implored Trump to rescind his withdrawal orders and leave 5,000 troops in Afghanistan for incoming President Joe Biden. The Trump administration has announced 2,500 troops would remain in Afghanistan and 2,500 in Iraq, an overall reduction of one-third.

Responding to the testimony, Gaetz asserted, "The biggest loser in Afghanistan is the nation that stays the longest" and called for the removal of all remaining troops there.


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