After backlash, Trump defends Syria moves as he both praises and threatens Turkey

President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended himself against the accusation he has abandoned Kurdish fighters in Syria as Turkey prepares for an invasion — using a series of tweets to lavish praise both on the Kurds and Turkey.

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Trump tweeted that, while the United States “may be in the process of leaving Syria … in no way have we Abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters.”

We may be in the process of leaving Syria, but in no way have we Abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters. Likewise our relationship with Turkey, a NATO and Trading partner, has been very good. Turkey already has a large Kurdish population and fully….

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

The president has faced harsh criticism from across the political spectrum — including from usually staunch Republican allies in the Senate — for the White House’s announcing Sunday night that the United States would stand aside while Turkey proceeded with an operation in northern Syria.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pointedly warned Trump to “exercise American leadership, while GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, usually a strong Trump supporter, called the decision “shortsighted and irresponsible.” Fellow Republican Sen. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a member of the House GOP leadership, called it was “a catastrophic mistake.”

Graham and Democratic Sen.Chris Coons sent a letter to McConnell Tuesday requesting a briefing “as soon as possible” from the State Department, Pentagon and the intelligence community.

“The President’s decision will have severe consequences for our strategic national interests and reduce American influence in the region while strengthening Turkey, Russia, and Iran,” they wrote.

“We are concerned that this was an abrupt decision taken in the face of reported opposition from military and diplomatic advisers, and that thousands of hardened ISIS fighters and thousands more ISIS supporters currently in detention may become free to fight again as their Kurdish captors turn to defending themselves against a Turkish incursion,” they said.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with senior military leaders including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Mark A. Milley, seated next to Trump, in the Cabinet Room of the White House Oct. 7, 2src19.Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with senior military leaders including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Mark A. Milley, seated next to Trump, in the Cabinet Room of the White House Oct. 7, 2019.

Trump and the Pentagon on Monday tried to clean up that statement — which made no mention of the Kurds, who have been fighting ISIS alongside the United States — by praising the Kurds and clarifying the United States did not endorse a Turkish operation. Trump threatened to “totally destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy if the country “does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits.”

PHOTO: Turkish forces artillery pieces are seen on their new positions near the border with Syria in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, Oct. 6, 2src19.DHA via AP
Turkish forces artillery pieces are seen on their new positions near the border with Syria in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, Oct. 6, 2019.

On Tuesday, Trump attempted to keep that delicate balance between supporting Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, and the Syrian Kurdish fighters, whom Turkey considers terrorists.

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. They have also been good to deal with, helping me to save many lives at Idlib Province, and returning, in very…..

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

While he reissued a threat to Turkey — saying that “any unforced or unnecessary fighting by Turkey will be devastating to their economy and to their very fragile currency” — he also noted the United States has had a “very good” relationship with Turkey and that he had invited its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to the White House next month.

Trump also noted Turkey had been a “big trading partner of the United States” and had freed an American pastor imprisoned there. While he noted Turkey participates in the F-35 fighter jet program, the United States actually announced this year it would be kicking Turkey out of that program for purchasing a Russian missile defense system.

PHOTO: A Syrian boy watches as Turkish military vehicles, part of a U.S. military convoy, take part in joint patrol in the Syrian village of al-Hashisha along the border with Turkey, Oct. 4, 2src19.Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images
A Syrian boy watches as Turkish military vehicles, part of a U.S. military convoy, take part in joint patrol in the Syrian village of al-Hashisha along the border with Turkey, Oct. 4, 2019.

Meanwhile, in the Turkish capital Tuesday, the Turkish vice president said his country would not give in to threats over its Syria plans, apparently responding to Trump’s Monday comments, according to the Associated Press. “Where Turkey’s security is concerned, we determine our own path but we set our own limits,” Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said, according to the AP.

ABC News’ Mariam Khan contributed to this report.

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