US President Donald Trump stressed on Wednesday that he did not give Turkish President Recep Tayyi[ Erdogan the green light to invade northeastern Syria to attack Kurdish fighters who were America's allies in fighting the ISIS group.
Trump downplayed the crisis that followed his decision to pull out of Syria, which critics say amounted to giving Turkey permission to attack its neighbor, where it has been targeting Kurdish fighters whom Turkey views as terrorists.
"It's not between Turkey and the United States, like a lot of stupid people would like you to believe," Trump said, adding that he is more than willing to let adversaries fight it out in that area of the Middle East.
As for the Kurds, whom Trump has been criticized for abandoning, he said: "Syria's friendly with the Kurds. The Kurds are very well protected. Plus, they know how to fight.”
In the meantime, he said, "Our soldiers are not in harm's way, as they shouldn't be."
He answered reporters' questions as he met at the White House with Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
However, a U.S. official familiar with planning for the withdrawal of the approximately 1,000 troops in northeastern Syria said that while the soldiers are consolidating onto two main bases, they have not yet begun flying out of Syria in significant numbers.
Military equipment is being gathered and flown out, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the withdrawal, which poses big security risks.
Turkey launched a military operation against Kurdish fighters allied with the United States after Trump pulled troops from the region earlier this month.
His decision was strongly condemned in the US — including by usual Republican allies in Congress — and around the world as contributing to regional instability and the abandonment of an ally.
He noted that Syria was getting "some help with Russia and that's fine."
"If Russia wants to get involved with Syria, that's really up to them," he said. "It's not our border. We shouldn't be losing lives over it,” he added, wondering why US soldiers were defending Syrian land.
Trump imposed new sanctions on Turkey this week in an attempt to force President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to end his assault. Trump is also sending a delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence to Turkey to meet with Erdogan in an attempt to help negotiate a ceasefire.
Trump said the US shouldn't be involved in "endless wars" in the Middle East and "it's time for us to come home."
The president said that if Syria wants to fight over land that does not belong to the US, "that's up to them and Turkey."
“Turkey and Syria will hopefully work it out between themselves,” he stated.
Erdogan, speaking to reporters in the Turkish parliament earlier on Wednesday, said he was reevaluating his planned visit to Washington in November but may visit Russia.