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Mon. 9:44 a.m.: Trump defends Syria decision as GOP leaders push back

In this Wednesday, July 11, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump, left, talks with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as they arrive together for a family photo at a summit of heads of state and government at NATO headquarters in Brussels. The White House says Turkey will soon invade Northern Syria, casting uncertainty on the fate of the Kurdish fighters allied with the U.S. against in a campaign against the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump this morning defended his decision to pull back U.S. troops from northern Syria, clearing the way for an expected Turkish assault.

The move drew immediate outrage from some of the president’s closest allies in Congress, with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham calling the decision “a disaster.” And Syria’s Kurds accused the U.S. of turning its back on its allies and risking gains made in the fight against the Islamic State group.

Trump, however, defended the move in a series of tweets this morning, acknowledging that “The Kurds fought with us,” but claiming they “were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so.”

“I held off this fight for almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home,” he wrote, adding that, “WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.” He said it will now be up to the region to decide what to do with captured IS fighters, and warned of retribution in response to any future attacks.

“We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!” he wrote.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened for months to launch the military operation across the Syrian border. He views the Kurdish forces as a threat to his country. Republicans and Democrats have warned that allowing the Turkish attack could lead to a massacre of the Kurds and send a troubling message to American allies across the globe.

U.S. troops “will not support or be involved in the operation” and “will no longer be in the immediate area,” in northern Syria, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in an unusual late-Sunday statement that was silent on the fate of the Kurds.

There are about 1,000 U.S. troops in northern Syria, and a senior U.S. official said they will pull back from the area — and potentially depart the country entirely should widespread fighting break out between Turkish and Kurdish forces.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said this morning in an appearance on “Fox & Friends” that he had not spoken with Trump about the decision and had concerns.

“I want to make sure we keep our word for those who fight with us and help us,” he said, adding that, “If you make a commitment and somebody is fighting with you. America should keep their word.”

One of the show’s hosts, Brian Kilmeade, asked McCarthy to try to intervene and “call the president before it’s too late.”

Graham, R-S.C., one of Trump’s most vocal backers, also weighed in via tweet, saying that, “If press reports are accurate this is a disaster in the making.” He also called in to “Fox and Friends” to share his dismay, calling the decision “short-sighted and irresponsible.”

“This impulsive decision by the president has undone all the gains we’ve made, thrown the region into further chaos. Iran is licking their chops. And if I’m an ISIS fighter, I’ve got a second lease on life,” he said. “I like president Trump. I’ve tried to help him. This to me is just unnerving to its core.”

The announcement followed a call between Trump and Erdogan, the White House said Sunday.

The decision is a stark illustration of Trump’s focus on ending American overseas entanglements — one of his key campaign promises. But his goal of swift withdrawals in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have been stymied by concerns from U.S. officials and American allies about the dangerous voids that would remain.

As he faces an impeachment inquiry at home, Trump has appeared more focused on making good on his political pledges, even at the risk of sending a troubling signal to American allies abroad.

In December, Trump announced he was withdrawing American troops from Syria but was met with widespread condemnation for abandoning Kurdish allies to the Turkish assault. The announcement prompted the resignation in protest of then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and a coordinated effort by then-national security adviser John Bolton to try to protect the Kurds.

Since January, U.S. officials have tried to broker the creation of a “safe zone” in northern Syria to provide a security buffer between the Turkish military and Kurdish forces, but Turkey has repeatedly objected to its slow implementation.

Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged an insurgency against Turkey for 35 years. The White House announcement Sunday came a day after Erdogan offered the strongest warning yet of a unilateral military operation into northeastern Syria, as the Turkish military has been dispatching units and defense equipment to its border with the area.

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