C-SPAN: President Trump answers on question on withdrawing forces from Syria and why he's "siding with an authoritarian leader and not our Kurdish allies?" President Trump responds, "I'm not siding with anybody…Syria was supposed to be a short-term hit."
Q Mr. President, on Syria — on withdrawing forces in Syria —
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
Q — why are you siding with an authoritarian leader and not our Kurdish allies?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m not siding with anybody. We’ve been in Syria for many years. You know, Syria was supposed to be a short-term hit — just a very short-term hit. And we were supposed to be in and out. That was many, many years ago. And we only have 50 people in that area. That’s a small sector.
And I don’t want those 50 people hurt or killed or anything. I don’t want anything bad to happen to our people. And I told that to President Erdoğan. I said, “Don’t hurt any of our — any of our people get hurt, big trouble.”
Now, a couple of things: I think there’s a lot of pressure on Turkey. They have been fighting with the PKK for many years. They’re natural enemies. If you read today, a couple of reports saying that when President Obama started this whole thing — as you know, it was started by President Obama — he created a natural war with Turkey and their long-time enemy, PKK. And they’re still there. And they’re still hating each other beyond anybody’s belief.
But I have told Turkey that if they do anything outside of what we would think is humane — to use the word a second time; we talk about Hong Kong, we talk about this — they could suffer the wrath of an extremely decimated economy. And I’ve done it once. I did it with Pastor Brunson. You remember the Pastor Brunson? And they wouldn’t give Pastor Brunson back, and they ended up giving Pastor Brunson back pretty quickly. Their currency fell at record levels and lots of other things happened. And it was good. I have a very good relationship with President Erdoğan. I want to see it happen.
I will tell you this though: We defeated ISIS. And when I wanted to — when we were at 96 and 95 and 97 percent, I sort of said, “Let the other countries in the area finish it off.” And I was met with a lot of anger from some people in our country. I said, “All right. I’ll finish it off.” And I got together with our generals. I flew to Iraq. I got together. And we did it very quickly. Far quicker than any general from here told us we could do it. We have some great people over there. They did it quickly.
And I said to the European countries, “You’ve got to take your ISIS…” You know we have 60,000, maybe even 70,000 people — that includes families, that includes wives of fighters that were killed. We have many fighters that were killed in the battles. And we took it. Over 100 percent of the caliphate, I took over quickly. Nobody else was — it was a mess when I came to office. And I think most of you would agree to that. It was a real mess.
I took it over. But then I said, “What are we going to do with these 60- to 70,000 people that are being held and being guarded and we can’t release them?” And many fighters also. And I said, “I want them to go back to Germany, to France, to different European countries from where they came.” And I said to the European countries — I said to all of them, “Take the people back.” And they said, “No, no, no. We don’t want to do it. We don’t them back.” I said, “Well, they came from Germany or they came from France. Take them back.”
And they’re so used to the United States being a sucker, being a fool — we’re talking about billions and billions of dollars. You’re talking about life. You’re talking about so many things, so many elements — and elements of complexity. Because they’re going to walk back into Germany. They’re going to go back into these countries from where they came.
So I said, “Take them back.” And they said, “No.” And then I said again, “I’m going to give you another 30 days. Take them back.” And they kept saying, “No.” Maybe they won’t be saying “no” now. I don’t know.
So I told President Erdoğan, “You got to — it’s going to be your responsibility.” Now, really, who’s responsible — it’s really Russia, it’s Turkey, it’s Iran, it’s Iraq, and it’s Syria, and anybody else in the neighborhood. Okay? We call it the “neighborhood.” It’s not a friendly neighborhood. But these countries should do it.
Now, ISIS is the sworn enemy of all of these countries. Many of them they hate far more than they hate us, and those countries hate them at the same level as we do. They’re — they’re terrible, terrible, savage killers. I said, “Take them back.”
But these countries are rich, in most cases. They’re powerful. They’ve got armies. They can do the work. But we’re not bringing 50-, 60-, 70-, or even 10,000 people to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. We’re not going to paying them for the next 50 years, or paying to take care of them for the next 50 years. So we told Europe — we did a great service to the world. And we did a great service to Europe in particular, where so many of these fighters came from.
We said, “Take them back.” And, you know, unfortunately, like NATO, they take advantage. NATO, as you know, I got the Secretary General Stolheim [Stoltenberg] said — and, I think, very loudly — the Secretary General of NATO, said that because of what I did, they have paid over $100 billion more money toward NATO defense. But that’s still not enough, okay? It’s still not enough. Not fair. Because United States pays far too much, relative. And obviously, NATO affects them more.
But, like NATO, like trade with the European Union, which is a very tough group to trade with — very, very tough group. Almost as tough as Japan — not quite. (Laughter.) But they are a very tough group to trade with. They take advantage. And I said, “Look, you take them back. We’re not — we’re not going to do this. We’re not going to put in Guantanamo Bay and put them all over our prisons.”
So, right now, we’re at a position where, if Turkey does anything out of what they should be doing, we will hit them so hard on the economy. But when you talk about soldiers — we only had 50 soldiers in the area. I think the area was — it’s a very small area and — very small area. But we only had 50 soldiers there. I don’t want them to be in a bad or compromising position.
And I will tell you this: Everybody respects our country again. If we want to go in, if we have to go back for any reason — because bad things happen. But we’re 7,000 miles away. These ISIS people — whatever you want to call them — these people are right there. They’re right there. They’re touching many of these countries that I just named. Iran, as an example, hates ISIS. And ISIS hates Iran. Iraq, you know all about that. Turkey, Syria — let them take care of it. Let them take care of it.
We want to bring our troops back home. It’s been many, many years. It’s been decades, in many cases. We want to bring our troops back home. And I got elected on that. If you go back and look at our speeches, I would say, “We want to bring our troops back home from these endless wars.”
And we’re like a police force over there. We’re policing. We’re not fighting; we’re policing. We’re not a police force. We’re the greatest military force ever assembled because of what I’ve done over the last three years with $2.5 trillion, Mr. Ambassador, we’ve spent on our military — $2.5 trillion.
But we’re not going to be there longer. And we’re going to be watching Turkey and we hope that them and all of the other countries — or some of the other countries, including the European Union — goes in and does whatever they’re supposed to do with these captured ISIS fighters and families. Okay?
Q Mr. President, a number of Republicans, including — including Nikki Haley and Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell were very critical of this decision today. Mitch McConnell put out a statement saying, wish you would recon- — exercise leadership and reconsider, and suggested not doing so would be reminiscent of what the Obama administration would do. Would you respond to that, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
Q And also, did you –
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q Did you consult with the Joint Chiefs of Staff when you made this decision?
THE PRESIDENT: Sure. I consulted with everybody. I always consult with everybody. If you remember, about eight months ago, I talked about doing this. And we kept 2,000 people there, and then slowly brought them out. But once we captured ISIS, I didn’t see — I don’t want to stay there for the next 40 years. It’s not going to do anything. The end game is going to be the same.
I have great respect for all of the people that you named. And they have their opinion, and a lot of people do. And I could also name many more than you just named of people that totally are supportive. You see the names coming out; people are extremely thrilled because they say it’s time to bring our people back home. We’re not a police force. They’re policing the area. We’re not a police force.
The UK was very thrilled at this decision. As you know, they’re over there — they have soldiers over there also. And others. But many people agree with it very strongly. And I understand both sides of it. I fully understand both sides of it. But I campaigned on the fact that I was going to bring our — our soldiers home, and bring them home as rapidly as possible.
I, we, all together, you — we defeated and took over 100 percent of the ISIS caliphate. Everybody said that was going to be an impossible thing to do. I did it, and I did it quickly because we have a great military now.
When I took over our military, we didn’t have ammunition. I was told by a top general — maybe the top of them all — “Sir, I’m sorry. Sir, we don’t have ammunition.” I said, “I’ll never let another President have that happen to him or her.” We didn’t have ammunition.
Now, we’ve captured ISIS. We’ve done what we’ve done. We had 50 soldiers in the area you’re talking about. And I said, “We want to bring our soldiers back home. It’s been a long time.”
Again, we were supposed to be in there for a — just a tiny spot. Like, a 30- to 90-day period. That was many years ago. It’s time.