Trump seeks to distance himself from Turkish invasion of Syria
"This morning, Turkey, a NATO member, invaded Syria. The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea," Trump said in a statement issued by the White House.
The president clarified that there are no American soldiers in the area where the Turkish incursion is taking place, and defended his efforts to pull U.S. forces out of the region, even as his strategy has faced relentless criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike.
"From the first day I entered the political arena, I made it clear that I did not want to fight these endless, senseless wars—especially those that don’t benefit the United States," Trump said.
The president said Turkey had committed to protecting civilians and religious minorities, and that the country would be responsible for imprisoned ISIS fighters and ensuring the terrorist group "does not reconstitute in any way, shape, or form."
"We expect Turkey to abide by all of its commitments, and we continue to monitor the situation closely," Trump said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced earlier Wednesday the Turkish military and a Syrian militia have begun a military operation against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
The U.S. military relied on the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is led by the Kurds, as the local ground force fighting ISIS. But Ankara considers the Syrian Kurds terrorists who are an extension of a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.
Around the same time Erdoğan announced the start of the offensive, the Syrian Democratic Forces said “civilian areas” were being struck by Turkish warplanes.
The White House announced late Sunday that Turkey would soon carry out a military operation in northern Syria and that U.S. troops will no longer be “in the immediate area,” raising widespread concerns about the safety of the Kurds without American forces to act as a buffer.
Trump, who campaigned against further U.S. entanglement in foreign conflicts, has dug in on his decision even as U.S. lawmakers have lined up to slam the White House's decision, warning that it abandons the Kurds, jeopardizes stability in the region and could sow distrust with future allies.
But even some of Trump's most ardent supporters blasted his decision on Wednesday as reports surfaced about the Turkish operation.
"Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration. This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a staunch Trump ally, tweeted Wednesday morning.
Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), a member of House Republican leadership, called reports of the Turkish offensive "sickening."
"Impossible to understand why @realDonaldTrump is leaving America’s allies to be slaughtered and enabling the return of ISIS," she tweeted.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is up for reelection in 2020, called the initial decision to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria "terribly unwise."
"Today, we are seeing the consequences of that terrible decision," she tweeted Wednesday. "If the reports of Turkish strikes in Syria are accurate, I fear our allies the Kurds could be slaughtered."