Senators and members of the House met with Esper on the margins of the Munich Security Conference. Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who are members of the Foreign Relations Committee, led the charge, said the four people, telling Esper that Congress would not support a U.S. troop withdrawal from the Sahel region in Africa and laying out the reasons to keep the troop presence there.
At one point, Graham warned Esper that there would be consequences if the Pentagon withdrew all troops from the region. Graham told Esper that he could “make your life hell,” according to the four people. One member present said Graham, Coons and several other lawmakers laid out their case “forcefully.”
Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah said the quote attributed to Graham was false. “I was in the room and that was never said,” said Farah. “The secretary had a productive conversation with bipartisan, bicameral members of Congress on the future of U.S. force presence in West Africa.”
“No, I never said that,” Graham said in a brief phone call with Defense One. “It was a good conversation.”
Trump recently has increased the number of U.S. troops in the Middle East, for instance, by more than he has brought home. Many of the new deployments have been in response to increased tension with Iran.