Trump defends Syria move: 'It's time to come back home'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE on Monday dug in on his decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria as Turkey prepares an operation in the region, while members of his own party lined up to criticize the move.

Speaking to reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Trump said he has "great respect" for the prominent Republicans who are urging him to reconsider his strategy but that "it's time to come back home."

"We’ve been there for many, many, many years beyond what we were supposed to be. Not fighting. Just there. Just there. And it’s time to come back home," Trump said in his first public remarks since the shift was announced late Sunday.

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"But I can understand the other side of it," he continued. "But if you go by the other side, that means we should never, ever come home."

The president lamented that the most difficult aspect of his job is writing letters to the families of soldiers killed overseas. He described writing to families of soldiers killed by mines or snipers, calling it "devastating."

"We’re willing to do what we have to do, but there has to be an endgame," he said. "And if you stay, it’s going to be the same thing. Eventually you’re going to have to leave."

The White House announced late Sunday that Turkey will soon be launching a military operation in northern Syria and that U.S. troops will no longer be “in the immediate area” when it happens. The U.S. had more than 1,000 troops deployed in northern Syria, working closely with Kurdish-led forces that Turkey considers terrorists.

Asked Monday if he consulted with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the decision, Trump claimed that he had.

"I consulted with everybody," he said. "I always consult with everybody."

But there appeared to be disunity in the administration and the GOP in the aftermath of the White House announcement.

Shortly after Trump spoke, a senior administration official told reporters in a phone briefing that the shift in strategy did not constitute a withdrawal and that the impacted troops — approximately 50 to 100 special operators in the region — would merely be relocated to other bases in the region.

The official also pushed back on any notion that Trump had given a "green light" to Turkey to conduct the operation. 

"There was a headline in The New York Times today that the president endorsed the operation in northern Syria," the official said. "We made it very clear that we did not endorse and do not endorse an operation in northern Syria."

The Pentagon had issued a statement earlier Monday indicating it did not approve of any Turkish offensive, while Republican lawmakers appeared to have been left in the dark on Trump's thinking and lined up to criticize the strategy.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill UN biodiversity chief calls for international ban of 'wet markets' Graham asks colleagues to support call for China to close wet markets MORE (R-S.C.) called it a "disaster in the making" and promised a Senate resolution opposing it. Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOutgoing inspector general says Trump fired him for carrying out his 'legal obligations' Trump selects White House lawyer for coronavirus inspector general Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill MORE (R-Utah) described the move as a "betrayal." Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPhase-four virus relief hits a wall On The Money: Senate aims to quickly approve more small-business aid | Dems seek conditions on new funds for small-business loans | Pelosi says next round of relief will top T The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Debruyne Says Global Response Platform Needed; Navarro Saw It Coming MORE (R-Fla.) lamented the move as a "grave mistake," and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPresident tightens grip on federal watchdogs The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump gets new press secretary in latest shake-up Trump takes heat for firing intel watchdog during pandemic MORE (R-Maine) called it "terribly unwise."

Some senators publicly urged Trump to reverse course, while Graham prepared a resolution to voice the Senate's disapproval.

Trump was asked Monday afternoon about the barrage of criticism that rolled in throughout the day from the likes of Graham, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers outline proposals for virtual voting Overnight Health Care: Trump calls report on hospital shortages 'another fake dossier' | Trump weighs freezing funding to WHO | NY sees another 731 deaths | States battle for supplies | McConnell, Schumer headed for clash Phase-four virus relief hits a wall MORE (R-Ky.) and former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyCoronavirus sets off industry scramble for aid from Washington Why Klobuchar should be Biden's vice presidential pick Overnight Defense: 'Tens of thousands' of National Guard troops could be activated for coronavirus response | Hospital ships could take week to deploy | Trump says military to help Americans stuck in Peru MORE, all of whom argued a U.S. retreat could harm relationships with allies and lay the foundation for a resurgence of ISIS.

He replied that "many people" strongly agree with his viewpoint. Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul volunteering at hospital after negative coronavirus test Georgia governor says he didn't know asymptomatic people could spread coronavirus McConnell: Impeachment distracted government from coronavirus threat MORE (R-Ky.) has been among his most vocal cheerleaders, though most Republicans have called on Trump to rethink the move.

"I respect both opinions," he said. "The problem with the other opinion is when do we leave? When do we leave? We’re going to stay there forever?"

Trump also insisted he wasn't "siding with anybody" with the decision.

Asked about the Kurdish fighters, thousands of whom have died fighting alongside U.S. forces in the region and the remainder of whom would be vulnerable without U.S. support, Trump described them as a "natural enemy" of Turkey before arguing against prolonged American involvement.

Trump had doubled down and defended his strategy throughout the day. In tweets and comments in the Roosevelt Room, he chiefly argued that he campaigned on a pledge to end U.S. involvement in "endless wars" and that American forces should not serve as a global police force.

He insisted that, if needed, he can act to cripple the Turkish economy or that the U.S. forces can return to the area, though he has not specified under what conditions those things would happen.

Morgan Chalfant contributed. Updated at 6:03 p.m.