Trump defends Turkey in wake of fierce GOP criticism

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he will 'temporarily hold off' on declaring Mexican drug cartels as terror organization House Judiciary Committee formally receives impeachment report Artist behind gold toilet offered to Trump sells banana duct-taped to a wall for 0,000 MORE on Tuesday defended Turkey as a NATO ally and strong trade partner of the United States one day after he was savagely criticized by Republicans for his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria.

Trump did so at the behest of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the move paves the way for Turkey to launch a military offensive into the area against Kurdish forces that have been loyal to the U.S. in the fight against ISIS.

Trump insisted that his administration had "in no way" abandoned the Kurds and was supplying the allied force with money and weapons. 

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"So many people conveniently forget that Turkey is a big trading partner of the United States, in fact they make the structural steel frame for our F-35 Fighter Jet," Trump tweeted. "They have also been good to deal with, helping me to save many lives at Idlib Province, and returning, in very good health, at my request, Pastor Brunson, who had many years of a long prison term remaining."

Trump highlighted that Turkey is a member of the NATO alliance and noted that Erdoğan will visit the White House on Nov. 13.

.....good health, at my request, Pastor Brunson, who had many years of a long prison term remaining. Also remember, and importantly, that Turkey is an important member in good standing of NATO. He is coming to the U.S. as my guest on November 13th. #ENDENDLESSWARS

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 8, 2019

Turkey was removed from the F-35 program in July after it purchased a Russian missile defense system.

Pastor Andrew Brunson was detained for nearly two years on allegations that he was connected to a failed coup against Erdoğan in 2016.

The president's tweet defending the Turks and Erdoğan will likely spur further criticism that he is siding with an authoritarian leader. It marked a shift in tone from a day earlier when he asserted that he could "obliterate" Turkey's economy if the country did anything "out of line." Trump did not specify what that would entail.

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.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties GOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Hannity slams Stern for Clinton interview: 'Not the guy I grew up listening to' MORE (R-S.C.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties MORE (R-Ky.) and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyHaley: Dylann Roof 'hijacked' Confederate flag Trump: Kellyanne Conway 'must have done some bad things' to 'crazy' husband Trump says Pence will remain on 2020 ticket: 'He's our man 100 percent' MORE were among the dozens of Republicans critical of Trump. They all said a U.S. retreat could harm relationships with allies and lay the foundation for a resurgence of ISIS.

Haley's tweet criticizing the move included the hashtag #TurkeyIsNotOurFriend.

A senior administration official insisted that Trump was not giving a "green light" to Turkey to carry out any operation, though the president's defense of Turkey on Tuesday will likely raise additional questions about his position.

Asked Monday 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 in the region.

"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."