Chris Coons, Potential Biden Secretary of State, Called for U.S. Troops to Remain in Afghanistan, Syria

Democratic Senator Chris Coons, a hotly-tipped contender in the race to be President-elect Joe Biden's secretary of state, told a British think tank last year that he wanted U.S. troops to remain on the ground in Afghanistan and Syria.

The senator's remarks stand in contrast with the Trump Administration's reported aim to withdraw thousands of U.S. servicemembers from Iraq and Afghanistan before the president leaves office in January next year.

Coons, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, spoke at an event held by the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in February 2019.

"I strongly support a continued presence by United States troops on the ground in Syria and Afghanistan to retain the capacity, to prevent groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS to establish physical strongholds and to launch, again, terrorist attacks against our nations," Coons said at the time.

"And I'm gravely concerned that an abrupt and precipitous withdrawal from either country threatens to erase the fragile and reversible gains... that both U.K. and U.S. troops have won together."

The Delaware senator tied talk of withdrawal to "populism" and suggested it was "not the time" for the U.S. to be backing out of either country.

According to multiple reports, Coons is a top contender to be Biden's secretary of state nominee. Other names tipped for the role include the ex-national security adviser Susan Rice and William Burns, the retired foreign service officer.

When speaking to PBS on Tuesday, Coons was asked if Biden would reverse troop withdrawals. "Well, I can't speak to whether he would or wouldn't do that," Coons said.

"But it is certainly unsafe and unsound for an outgoing administration in just their last two months, with an acting secretary of defense who's been in that role just one week, to make abrupt decisions or changes."

Coons told Politico in an October statement that "Joe Biden and I have very similar, closely aligned views on foreign policy. He's got a lot of great folks from whom to choose, but if he were to consider me as well, I'd certainly be honored."

In an interview with Stars and Stripes in September, Biden said he supported "drawing down" troops from the Middle East, but would still want to keep a small force in the region to protect against terrorism.

Newsweek has contacted Sen. Coons' office for comment. The Biden transition team has also been contacted for comment on the senator's remarks.

The senator's support for a continued U.S. military presence in Syria and Afghanistan could be a point of tension with the Trump Administration, "America First" Republicans, and prominent progressive figures, such as Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who pledged to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan as quickly as possible during the Democratic primary.

The New York Times reported on Monday that Trump is expected to order the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia in time for President-elect Biden's inauguration in January next year.

According to a draft order seen by officials who spoke to the newspaper, the number of troops in Afghanistan could be halved as the number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq would drop below 3,000.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons
Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, DC, October 14, 2020. Stefani Reynolds-Pool/AFP via Getty Images