Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has been one of President Trump’s strongest allies in the Senate, on Wednesday said Kurdish fighters in Syria had been “shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration” in its sudden decision to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria, leaving America’s longtime allies in the fight against the Islamic State group exposed to an attack by Turkey.
“I hope he’s right — I don’t think so. I know that every military person has told him don’t do this,” Graham said in an appearance on “Fox & Friends.” “If he follows through with this, it’d be the biggest mistake of his presidency.”
Amid news that Turkish forces had launched a long-threatened military offensive into Kurdish-controlled parts of Syria, Trump on Wednesday continued to stand by his decision to pull out U.S. troops, tweeting Wednesday morning that Turkey should be responsible for guarding all ISIS fighters captured in the area and reiterating, in follow-up tweets, his belief that “going into the Middle East is the worst decision ever made in the history of our country!”
Graham, of South Carolina, reacted to Trump’s comments, characterizing them as “a pre-9/11 mentality that the Middle East is no concern to us” that “paved the way for 9/11.”
Fighting between various groups that has been going on for hundreds of years. USA should never have been in Middle East. Moved our 50 soldiers out. Turkey MUST take over captured ISIS fighters that Europe refused to have returned. The stupid endless wars, for us, are ending! https://t.co/Fbcem9i55Z
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2019
In an afternoon statement from the White House, Trump confirmed Turkey had invaded Syria Wednesday morning. He declared, “The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea.
“There are no American soldiers in the area,” Trump added. “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. In addition, Turkey is now responsible for ensuring all ISIS fighters being held captive remain in prison and that ISIS 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.”
“I hope President Trump’s right,” Graham told Fox News. “I hope we can turn the fight against ISIS over to Turkey. I hope that Turkey, when they go into Syria, they won’t slaughter the Kurds. And I would say this to the president: It would be hard to protect America without allies over there. ... The Kurds have been good allies. And when Turkey goes into Syria they’re not going to fight ISIS, they’re going in to kill the Kurds, because in their eyes they’re more of a threat to Turkey than ISIS.”
Graham added: “We can’t abandon the Kurds now. We can’t turn it over to Turkey. To think that would work is really delusional and dangerous.”
Graham, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is one of a number of Trump’s allies who have condemned the decision to withdraw the troops, who had been serving as a buffer between Kurdish fighters and Turkey.
The Kurdish fighters had fought alongside Americans to defeat the Islamist terror army of ISIS. But their long-held dream of establishing a Kurdish state in territory that overlaps Turkey and Iraq makes them historical enemies of both countries.
The White House issued a statement Sunday evening saying it “will not support or be involved in the operation” and “will no longer be in the immediate area” of northern Syria.
The move came after months of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s threats of a military operation across the border to clear out the Kurdish forces. The White House said the decision to withdraw troops from Syria came after a call on Sunday between Trump and Erdogan, who views the Kurds as a threat to his ruling party. There are roughly 1,000 U.S. troops currently operating in northeastern Syria.
Following reports that American soldiers were leaving their positions in Syria, Trump on Monday offered a rambling defense of his stunning reversal of long-standing American policy, saying, “We’ve been there for many years, long, many, many, many years beyond what we were supposed to be. Not fighting, just there.”
Graham said that a U.S. presence in the region has yielded results in fighting ISIS and argued that Trump should continue with U.S. border patrols along the “safe zone” in northern Syria, otherwise his administration will be responsible for the return of the Islamic State group.
“I would argue for him to go back to the status quo,” Graham said. “The safe zones were working. Patrolling with Turkey and international forces to protect the Kurds and Turkey is the way to go. If we pull out, the Kurds are in a world of hurt and ISIS comes back, and President Trump will own it.”
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