WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Wednesday slammed Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria as a “bad idea” even as both Democratic and Republican lawmakers said his decision to withdraw U.S. troops had all but guaranteed the attack.
As Turkey launched a series of punishing airstrikes and civilians were seen fleeing Kurdish-held territory along the border between Syria and Turkey, Trump said the U.S. opposed the attack and warned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to avoid harming civilians or causing a humanitarian crisis in the fragile region.
Following a phone call with Erdogan, Trump announced Sunday he was moving U.S. special forces out of the region, clearing the way for the invasion. Critics, including many Republicans, said the decision not only abandoned the U.S.-allied Kurds but set the stage for Turkey’s potentially destabilizing incursion.
Trump said the United States “does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea.”
Congressional Republicans and former administration officials joined Democrats in criticizing the president’s decision to pull U.S. troops from the area, saying it was a betrayal of Kurdish allies who have fought alongside American allies and have been crucial in the effort to contain ISIS.
“Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration,” said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., normally an outspoken ally of the president.
Graham added: “This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS.”
White House and State Department officials have stressed for days that Trump did not approve of Turkey’s long-planned military strike and that his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the region was not a “green light” for that operation. Instead, they insisted, Turkey informed the U.S. that it was prepared to launch the attack on its own.
But critics, including some of Trump’s allies, have noted that by removing troops it cleared the way for Turkey to strike because it removed the possibility of harming U.S. service members.
Trump tweeted Wednesday that the withdrawal involved roughly 50 service members. An administration official speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of U.S. involvement in the region described the number of soldiers involved to be between 50 and 100.
The president has repeatedly framed the decision as part of his broader goal of reducing U.S. military engagements oversees. But the same administration official rejected the idea that the soldiers involved are being withdrawn and instead said that the service members would be reassigned to other areas in Syria.
Trump has reduced U.S. military engagement in the country. The U.S. currently has about 1,000 troops in Syria, roughly half of the deployment at the end of last year.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, said news of the invasion sickened her.
“Turkey is invading Syria in reported coordination with Russian-backed forces, ISIS terrorists are launching attacks in Raqqa, and thousands of ISIS fighters are biding their time in makeshift prisons,” she said. “The U.S. is abandoning our ally the Kurds, who fought ISIS on the ground and helped protect the U.S. homeland.”
Trump and other administration officials said they expect Turkey to maintain the detention of thousands of ISIS fighters, but several lawmakers questioned whether the Turks will be able or even willing to do that.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said the U.S. withdrawal ”further emboldens Iranian proxies in the region and enables the escape of thousands of ISIS fighters who are currently held by Kurdish forces but remain determined to attack the West.”
In his statement put out by the White House, Trump said: “There are no American soldiers in the area.”
He also said “Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place – and we will hold them to this commitment.”
Trump’s statement did not mention the Kurds by name.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump: Turkey invasion of Kurd-held are of Syria a ‘bad idea’
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