Trump defends decision to leave Syria during visit to Iraq

President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally MORE defended his decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria during his surprise visit to a U.S. military base in Iraq on Wednesday. 

Trump, giving remarks at the Al Asad Air Base, disputed reports that he announced the drawdown in Syria without prior warning.


"You know, the way it was reported was like I just pulled out," Trump said, according to a White House transcript of his remarks. "I didn't just pull out. I've been talking about it for a year and a half."

"I said, 'Let's get out of Syria. Let's bring our young people home,'" he continued. Trump claimed that he made numerous requests with officials to pull troops out over the 18 months.  

Trump last week announced that the more than 2,000 U.S. soldiers in Syria would be returning home soon.

The decision prompted backlash from both Republicans and some Democrats, who argued that withdrawing from Syria would leave a power vacuum for Iran and Russia, two prominent backers of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Trump has claimed that Turkey will continue to fight ISIS in the region, the U.S.'s stated purpose for its presence. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Video of Lindsey Graham arguing against nominating a Supreme Court justice in an election year goes viral Warning signs flash for Lindsey Graham in South Carolina MORE (R-S.C.), one of Trump's staunchest allies in the Senate, spoke out against the decision, calling it an "Obama-like mistake."

"Well, I had a good debate with Lindsey Graham in front of a lot of people," Trump said on Wednesday, adding, "We agree on many things." 

"I think that a lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking," the president said. "It's not fair when we burden the — when the burden is all on us, the United States."  

Trump repeatedly said he believed it was time to bring the "young people" home. 

"I've been signing plenty of letters, and I don't like sending those letters home to parents, saying that your young man or your young woman has been killed," Trump said. And I don't like doing it. We've been doing it long enough." 

The president later added that he had "no plans at all" to pull the more than 5,000 troops out of Iraq. 

"No plans at all, no," Trump said. "In fact, we could use this as a base if we wanted to do something in Syria. I will say this, if you take ISIS and if we see something happening with ISIS that we don't like, we can hit them so fast and so hard, they won't -- they really won't know what the hell happened."

Trump also sought to downplay claims that the U.S.'s withdrawal of troops from Syria could endanger its neighbor and a U.S. ally, Israel.

"Well, I don't see it," Trump said. "And I spoke with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] Bibi. I told Bibi. And, you know, we give Israel $4.5 billion a year. And they're doing very well defending themselves, if you take a look."