President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Turkey’s offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria is “not our problem,” defending his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the region amid criticism.
“If Turkey goes into Syria, it is between Turkey and Syria. It’s not our problem,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office during a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
Trump also downplayed the U.S. alliance with the Kurds, calling them “no angels” and saying the U.S. “paid a lot of money” for the Syrian Kurdish forces to fight alongside U.S. troops against ISIS.
“The Kurds are much safer right now, but the Kurds know how to fight, and as I said, they’re not angels. They’re not angels. You take a look… but they fought with us. We paid a lot of money for them to fight with us, and that’s OK,” Trump said.
“If Russia wants to get involved with Syria, that’s really up to them. They have a problem with Turkey. They have a problem at a border. It’s not our border, we shouldn’t be losing lives over it,” Trump said later.
Trump has faced tremendous blowback over his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria as Turkey prepared to launch a military operation at the border, including harsh criticism from some of his Republican allies.
Many critics have argued that Trump’s move effectively greenlit Ankara’s operation and that the president abandoned Kurdish forces, a key U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS. Turkey has long viewed the Syrian Kurds as a terrorist group.
Administration officials have rejected the notion that Trump’s decision to pull back troops paved the way for the Turkish operation.