Donald Trump defends Syria policy, saying US is not abandoning Kurds by withdrawing troops

David Jackson and John Fritze, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Facing criticism from fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, President Donald Trump defended his withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria on Tuesday, saying he is not selling out Kurdish allies.

"We may be in the process of leaving Syria, but in no way have we Abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters," Trump said in a series of tweets. 

Congressional lawmakers said Trump's move would allow Turkey to invade northern Syria and possibly crush U.S.-supported Kurds who helped combat Islamic State extremists. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., blasted the decision Tuesday as "morally repugnant" and said it "stains our nation's reputation." 

Trump echoed a threat he made Monday to "destroy" Turkey's economy if it tries to wipe out the Kurds. He also defended Turkey, calling it "a NATO and Trading partner" with whom the United States has a "very good" relationship.

Trump indicated he plans to welcome Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for meetings next month in Washington. 

Officials in Turkey dismissed Trump's threats.

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Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said his country wants to create a zone to permit the resettlement of Syrian refugees. "Where Turkey's security is concerned," he said, "we determine our own path, but we set our own limits."

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement that "we will not hesitate for a moment in defending our people" against Turkish troops. Turkey views the Kurds as terrorists with ties to domestic insurgents.  

 U.S. officials said Trump's withdrawal would trigger fighting, pleasing Turkey, Russia, Iran and others who have their own designs for Syria.

"A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran and the Assad regime," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Trump noted that he campaigned for the presidency on a pledge to end wars in places such as Syria. The White House stressed the decision was not a "withdrawal" of U.S. forces but a reassignment of a limited number of soldiers from northern Syria to other parts of the beleaguered country.  

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Trump tweeted that "we are helping the Kurds financially/weapons!"

The White House announced late Sunday that "Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria. The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump defends Syria policy, says US is not abandoning Kurds