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GOP Rep. Mac Thornberry Weighs In On Raid That Resulted In Death Of ISIS Leader

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There has been bipartisan praise for the weekend operation in Syria that resulted in the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. That is a change from the intense bipartisan criticism over President Trump's decision to pull troops out of Syria. Joining us now from Capitol Hill is Representative Mac Thornberry. He is a Republican from Texas and ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee.

Welcome back to the program.

MAC THORNBERRY: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: You have praised the raid that killed Baghdadi. You've also criticized President Trump's decision to pull troops out of Syria. Have the weekend's events affected your thinking at all about the troop withdrawal?

THORNBERRY: I think the two things go together. It was information and assistance we received from the Syrian Kurds but also from the Iraqis and others that enabled this mission against Baghdadi to take place. I think the bottom line, especially when it comes to terrorism - the United States can't do it all alone. We have to have friends and allies.

SHAPIRO: Do you think that's likely to persuade the president? Do you think he's likely to change course based on what happened with this raid?

THORNBERRY: Well, he's already changed course, to some extent. He has agreed to leave some American presence in Syria around the oil fields. That gives us a foothold to keep a closer eye on ISIS and, if necessary, launch further counterterrorism operations from there. So he's already adjusted somewhat. And I hope that this helps everyone see more clearly the benefit of working with others.

SHAPIRO: Where does this leave the U.S. with regard to the Kurds, who have been key American allies - apparently played a decisive role in this operation and lately feel betrayed by the United States, which quickly pulled out of northern Syria?

THORNBERRY: Well, I'm sure they are still upset and concerned. They have suffered significantly, but the rest of the story is they don't have too many options - and especially if we are going to stay in eastern Syria, then I think it's to their best interests that they continue to work with us. But no question - there's still a number of complexities in Syria. We will be tested. They will be tested. This is not done yet.

SHAPIRO: During the news conference where he made this announcement, the president gave some vivid descriptions of the raid - the logistics, the play-by-play. And today, some are questioning whether that might invite retaliation from ISIS or compromised classified information. Does that worry you?

THORNBERRY: Well, there was probably more detail than I would have given, and certainly, the language the president used is not what we're used to hearing from a president. And so that makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I think there also, though, is a countervailing value, and that is, it was a major accomplishment to get the leader of ISIS taken off the battlefield, if you were. And if you can diminish his stature, if you can take a little of the glamour and allure off of him, then that may well be beneficial when we look to discouraging others from carrying out the sort of terrorist attacks that ISIS members have carried out.

SHAPIRO: Congressman Thornberry, as long as we have you - because you are the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, I want to just briefly ask you about Ukraine, if I may. You wrote a letter in August to White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney asking why he held up hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to help Ukraine fight Russian aggression. Now several officials with firsthand knowledge have testified that President Trump wanted Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into his political rivals as a condition for the aid. Does that give you the answer you were looking for?

THORNBERRY: Well, it may. I'm a little reluctant to jump to conclusions based on selective leaks that are coming out of these secret impeachment hearings. But you've had people on both sides of the aisle support giving lethal aid to Ukraine for years. And so, yes, I was very concerned, as others were. And that's the reason we wrote the letter. And frankly, we never got an answer.

SHAPIRO: Well, given the testimony that we have seen - and I understand your concerns about the process - does it look to you like it was a quid pro quo?

THORNBERRY: I don't know. I want to see the whole testimony. My opinion is, if it was a condition of getting aid that there be an investigation into a political rival, that was inappropriate. Whether it rises to the standard of being an impeachable offense - that's a different question. But I think it was certainly inappropriate if that's what happened.

SHAPIRO: Congressman Mac Thornberry, Republican of Texas and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, thank you so much for your time today.

THORNBERRY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.