DALLAS ― President Donald Trump said Thursday that he had to let Kurdish allies and Turkey “fight a little while” before the U.S. would be able to stop the Turkish attack on northern Syria that the president himself had enabled.
“Sometimes you have to let them fight a little while, then people find out how tough the fighting is,” he told supporters at his campaign rally in Dallas. “Sometimes you have to let them fight like two kids in a lot, you gotta let them fight, and then you pull them apart.”
Earlier Thursday, the White House said Turkey agreed to temporarily halt deadly military operations against northern Syria, a region that’s been held by Kurdish allies who had been fighting ISIS alongside the U.S. troops until Trump decided to abruptly withdraw earlier this month. The agreement gives the Kurds some time to give up their weapons and leave the region that Turkey has been trying to capture. It will allow Turkish forces to take over northern Syria.
The deal worked “without spilling a drop of American blood,” Trump told supporters at the rally.
The withdrawal decision led to Turkey attacking the Kurdish-held region with at least 180 airstrikes as of Thursday morning, killing at least 16 fighters, four civilians (including an infant), and injuring at least 70 more in border towns, according to The New York Times. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds have fled northeastern Syria since Trump’s announcement to withdraw the U.S. troops.
The deal, which Turkey’s foreign minister clarified as a “pause” and not a ceasefire, creates a five-day halt in Turkey’s attack against the Kurds, whom the country considers terrorists. The deal came after Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Turkey to prevent an escalation of the violence that Trump had effectively greenlighted.
“During a five-day period, we’re going to see if we can get it all finalized, and I think it will be,” Trump said Thursday evening. “So Turkey’s going to be happy, the Kurds are going to be happy, ISIS is going to be unhappy.”
Trump sympathized with Turkey at the campaign rally, calling the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a “gentleman” and saying that Turkey “was having a lot of bad things happen from this region, in all fairness.”
The president has faced overwhelming backlash by both Democrats and Republicans for his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the Kurdish-held region, basically allowing Turkish forces to invade while leaving the Kurds vulnerable. Many said the decision would likely lead to a resurgence of ISIS, made more likely after hundreds of ISIS supporters escaped detention in northern Syria as a result of Trump’s move.
On Wednesday, Trump made a series of comments undermining the U.S. alliance with the Kurds, saying the fighters were “not angels” and the Turkish invasion “not our problem.”
The Senate on Thursday introduced sanctions on Turkey, a more detailed and punitive measure than the sanctions Trump imposed earlier this week. The House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to condemn Trump’s recent foreign policy decision in the Middle East.
Trump has continued to defend his decision, saying this week that it was “strategically brilliant.” On Wednesday, after the House vote, the president berated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a meeting meant to be about Trump’s plan of action on Syria.
Some supporters at the rally thought Trump made the right move in pulling the U.S. troops from the region, citing the need for the country to stay out of wars.
“We need to get out of there. We’ve been having wars for no reason for pretty much my entire life,” 40-year-old Josh Warren of Garland, Texas, told HuffPost. “[President George W.] Bush put us in those wars. They were wars to fill his pockets. Bush wasn’t really for this country.”
“I think he needs to bring our American troops home,” said Debbie Bewley. “I don’t think we need to be involved in useless wars.”