…As US begins withdrawing some military equipment from Syria***
The White House is laying the groundwork for declaring a national emergency that would let President Donald Trump build sections of a wall along the US-Mexico border, possibly using funds from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing two unnamed sources.
According to a report, the plan called for building 315 miles (500 km) of border barrier by declaring an emergency and tapping a $13.9 billion Army Corps fund that was set aside for US disaster relief and prevention projects.
Such a strategy, which Reuters could not immediately confirm independently, would escalate a wall-funding standoff between Trump and Democrats in Congress from a policy dispute to a test of presidential power and likely trigger a legal challenge. Pushing the impasse into the courts could give Trump an escape path from the political box he has put himself in by demanding that any legislation to end a 20-day-old partial government shutdown include $5.7 billion in funding for his wall, a demand that congressional Democrats oppose.
The federal government partially shut down on Dec. 22 when Trump and lawmakers failed to reach an agreement to fund several agencies whose funding had expired for reasons unrelated to Trump`s wall.
US officials, said Trump had been briefed on the plan involving the Army Corps while flying to the US southern border on Thursday. A White House official denied Trump had been briefed on the plan. The Pentagon declined to comment on the news reports.
“The News reports are totally false, bogus, but doesn`t mean the president won`t talk to them at some point,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said. The Post, citing a congressional aide, said the administration was specifically looking at using some of the $13.9 billion included in a disaster spending bill passed by Congress last year that has been allocated but not yet spent.
In the meantime, the first US military ground equipment has been withdrawn from Syria, signaling the beginning of the drawdown ordered by President Donald Trump, according to an administration official. “Some cargo has already moved,” the official told CNN on Friday. Due to security concerns, the official would not describe exactly what the cargo was or whether it had been moved out by aircraft or ground vehicles.
The official also declined to say what part of Syria the equipment was in. The announcement comes after Trump said that the US troops would be withdrawing from Syria “over a period of time,” dismissing the previously reported four-month exit plan.
But White House National Security Adviser John Bolton on Sunday contradicted Trump`s decision, saying said that American forces would remain in Syria until the last remnants of the Islamic State (IS) were defeated and Turkey provided guarantees that it would not strike Kurdish forces allied with the US.
He also acknowledged that pockets of the IS remained undefeated and that a quick US pullout could endanger US partners and allies in the region, as well as American forces themselves. Currently, there are more than 2,000 US soldiers deployed in Syria.