President Donald Trump on Monday defended his widely condemned decision to greenlight a Turkish military operation that jeopardizes the lives of U.S.-allied Kurdish forces fighting the self-described Islamic State in northern Syria.
In an extraordinary shift in U.S. foreign policy, the White House released a statement late Sunday announcing that American forces would “no longer be in the immediate area,” allowing Turkey to invade northern Syria. Any captured ISIS fighters are now the responsibility of Turkey, the White House added.
The Kurds, an ethnic group, lead the Syrian Democratic Forces, the main ally of the U.S. in Syria. The Turkish government, however, considers them to be terrorists. Middle Eastern and foreign policy experts have warned that allowing Turkey to invade northern Syria will result in a genocide against the Kurds.
But Trump, in a series of tweets Monday, essentially told the Kurds that the United States has supported them for years, but now they’re on their own.
“The United States was supposed to be in Syria for 30 days, that was many years ago,” the president wrote. “We stayed and got deeper and deeper into battle with no aim in sight.”
“The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so,” he continued. “[I]t is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.”
Trump added that it’s now up to Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds to “figure the situation out.”
“They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years,” he tweeted. “We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!”
In a statement Sunday, the SDF said a Turkish invasion would “displace our people” and could “result in many civilian casualties.” The forces warned that Trump’s decision to withdraw support in northern Syria will reverse the progress they’ve made on defeating ISIS and make the war-torn country a “permanent conflict area.”
Several senior Republicans pushed back on Trump’s plan to desert the Kurds.
“I hope I’m making myself clear how shortsighted and irresponsible this decision is in my view,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told “Fox & Friends” on Monday. “This, to me, is just unnerving to its core.”
Trump called for the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces in Syria last December, but he ultimately reversed his decision following backlash from American intelligence officials, foreign allies and U.S. lawmakers, including Graham.
This story has been updated with a statement from the Syrian Democratic Forces.