Trump seeks to distance himself from Turkish invasion of Syria

President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE on Wednesday sought to distance himself from a Turkish military operation against Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria, days after he drew bipartisan backlash for announcing U.S. troops would vacate the area.

"This morning, Turkey, a NATO member, invaded Syria. The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea," Trump said in a statement issued by the White House.

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The president clarified that there are no American soldiers in the area where the Turkish incursion is taking place, and defended his efforts to pull U.S. forces out of the region, even as his strategy has faced relentless criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike.

"From the first day I entered the political arena, I made it clear that I did not want to fight these endless, senseless wars—especially those that don’t benefit the United States," Trump said. 

The president said Turkey had committed to protecting civilians and religious minorities, and that the country would be responsible for imprisoned ISIS fighters and ensuring the terrorist group "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," Trump said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced earlier Wednesday the Turkish military and a Syrian militia have begun a military operation against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

The U.S. military relied on the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is led by the Kurds, as the local ground force fighting ISIS. But Ankara considers the Syrian Kurds terrorists who are an extension of a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.

Around the same time Erdoğan announced the start of the offensive, the Syrian Democratic Forces said “civilian areas” were being struck by Turkish warplanes.

The president spoke to Erdoğan on Sunday and the White House announced late that night that Turkey would soon carry out a military operation in northern Syria and that U.S. troops will no longer be “in the immediate area,” raising widespread concerns about the safety of the Kurds without American forces to act as a buffer.

Trump, who campaigned against further U.S. entanglement in foreign conflicts, has dug in on his decision even as U.S. lawmakers have lined up to slam the White House's decision, warning that it abandons the Kurds, jeopardizes stability in the region and could sow distrust with future allies.

But even some of Trump's most ardent supporters blasted his decision on Wednesday as reports surfaced about the Turkish operation.

"Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration. This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS," Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Graham: 'Stupid' for Trump to ask China to investigate Biden Turkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate MORE (R-S.C.), a staunch Trump ally, tweeted Wednesday morning.

Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyHouse Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment Republicans seek to delay effort to censure Schiff after Cummings' death House Foreign Affairs leaders introduce Turkey sanctions bill MORE (Wyo.), a member of House Republican leadership, called reports of the Turkish offensive "sickening."

"Impossible to understand why @realDonaldTrump is leaving America’s allies to be slaughtered and enabling the return of ISIS," she tweeted.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes MORE (R-Maine), who is up for reelection in 2020, called the initial decision to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria "terribly unwise."

"Today, we are seeing the consequences of that terrible decision," she tweeted Wednesday. "If the reports of Turkish strikes in Syria are accurate, I fear our allies the Kurds could be slaughtered."

Trump later on Wednesday rejected that leaving the Kurdish allies to fend off Turkey would impair the country's ability to form future alliances.

He went on to bemoan that the Kurds were not there in support of the U.S. during World War II and that America had spent "tremendous amounts of money" helping the Kurds.

“With all of that being said, we like the Kurds,” Trump said.

Updated at 5:21 p.m.