President Trump spent ten minutes at a press conference Wednesday with the Italian President explaining his reasoning for withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria and clarifying his comment from earlier that day that the Kurds are "no angels."
"I say why are we protecting Syria's land? Assad's not a friend of ours. Why are we protecting their land? And is Syria also has a relationship with the Kurds, who, by the way, are no angels, okay? Who is an angel? There are too many around. But Syria has a relationship with the Kurds, so they'll come in for their border and they'll fight," Trump said. "Syria doesn't want Turkey to take its land. I can understand that. But what does that have to do with the United States of America if they're fighting over Syria's land?"
"Russia, Iran, Syria, and to maybe a slightly lesser extent, Turkey, they all hate ISIS as much as we do. And it's their part of the world. We're 7,000 miles away. I campaigned on bringing our soldiers back home, and that's what I'm doing."
Later he said: "You know, we're in many countries, many, many countries. I--I'm embarrassed to tell you how many. I know the exact number, but I'm embarrassed to say it because it's so foolish. We're in countries--we're protecting countries that don't even like us. They take advantage of us. They don't pay; nothing."
"So you have Syria and you have Turkey they are going to argue it out. Maybe they're going to fight it out but our men aren't going to get killed over it. And just one other thing--they've been fighting for hundreds of years. This has been going on for hundreds of years," he concluded.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. I wanted to ask about Turkey. Did President Erdogan's decisions surprise you? And if they did not surprise you, would you make the same decision as you made before in removing U.S. forces?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, President Erdogan's decision didn't surprise me because he's wanted to do that for a long time. He's been building up troops on the border with Syria for long time, as you know. Our soldiers are mostly gone from the area. We only had 26, 28, but under 50. We think it's probably 28, but under 50 soldiers and--which is a very tiny force.
And it didn't surprise me at all. This is a--they've been warring for many years. It's unnatural for us, but it's sort of natural for them. They fight and they fight long and they fight hard, and they been fighting Syria for a long time and on the border. That's the border with Syria.
And I say why are we protecting Syria's land? Assad's not a friend of ours. Why are we protecting their land? And is Syria also has a relationship with the Kurds, who, by the way, are no angels, okay? Who is an angel? There are too many around. But Syria has a relationship with the Kurds, so they'll come in for their border and they'll fight.
They may bring partners in. They could bring Russia in. And I say welcome to it. Russia went into Afghanistan when it was the Soviet Union, and they became Russia, became a much smaller country because of Afghanistan. You can overextend. You can do a lot of things. But frankly, if Russia is going to help in protecting the Kurds, that's a good thing, not a bad thing.
But it would be led by Syria. And Syria doesn't want Turkey to take its land. I can understand that. But what does that have to do with the United States of America if they're fighting over Syria's land? Are we supposed to fight a NATO member in order that Syria, who is not our friend, keeps their land? I don't think so.
But Syria does have a relationship with the Kurds. The thing that's common is that everybody hates ISIS. Now, the PKK, which is a part of the Kurds, as you know, is probably worse at terror and more of a terrorist threat in many ways than ISIS. So it's a very semi-complicated--not too complicated if you're smart. But it's a semi-complicated problem, and I think it's a problem that we have a very nicely under control.
We have two countries wanting their land. We have one country that once land perhaps that doesn't belong to them because they want to have a--a 22 mile strip of--they call it freedom. They called it a lot of things. They want to get terrorists out. You have another country that says you can have our land. And they're going to have to work that out.
Now, with that being said, Vice President Mike Pence is going there. You'll be leaving either late tonight or tomorrow. And he was going to leave yesterday but they have to have certain security done. He's a very important man in our country. And he'll be leaving with Secretary of State Pompeo. We already have representatives they're negotiating with Turkey.
We've put massive sanctions on Turkey and we have additional sanctions on Turkey. And when I ran, I ran on a basis we're going to bring our great soldiers back home where they belong. We don't have to fight these endless wars. We're bringing them back home. That's what I've won on.
And some people, whether it's--you call it the military-industrial complex or--or beyond that, they'd like me to stay. One of the problems I have and one of--for instance, with the witch hunt, you have people that want me to stay.
They want me to fight forever. And they do very well fighting. That's what they want to do, fight. A lot of companies want to fight because they make their weapons based on fighting, not based on peace. And they take care of a lot of people.
I want to bring our soldiers back home. We're not a police force. We're a fighting force. We're the greatest fighting force ever. I spent $2.5 trillion over the last almost three years rebuilding our military. When I took it over, it was a mess. It was an absolute mess. It was totally depleted. You know that. A lot of people know that. Honest people all know that.
When I was thinking about having to do something, one of our generals came in to see me and he said, sir, we don't have ammunition. I said that's a terrible thing you just said. He said we don't have ammunition. Now we have more ammunition that we've ever had. We have more missiles. We have more rockets. Our nuclear has been totally updated and, in some cases, new. Hopefully to God we never have to use it but we have the most powerful nuclear base by far in the world.
And we have things that we never had before. We have a great modern military, but that doesn't mean we're going to waste it. It doesn't mean we're going to depleted like we did before with these crazy endless wars.
So, Turkey and Syria will hopefully work it out between themselves. Hopefully, ISIS will be guarded. I told--I spoke with, as you know, a wonderful man yesterday, a general from the Kurds. You all know who I'm talking about. Some of you have seen the letter that I put out to Erdogan. I gave it to him, President Erdogan. And some of you have seen it.
With the general, I said, listen, don't open those doors and let them out just to create more havoc so that we come in, because some of those doors were just opened. Let's create some havoc and some political exposure for the president of the United States.
We were the ones that contact--we were the ones that got ISIS. We're the ones that took care of it, specifically me, because I'm the one that gave the order. Because when I came in, under President Obama ISIS was a disaster all over that area. I was the one that got them. We were the ones that captured them.
And I will say this, that Russia, Iran, Syria, and to maybe a slightly lesser extent, Turkey, they all hate ISIS as much as we do. And it's their part of the world. We're 7,000 miles away. I campaigned on bringing our soldiers back home, and that's what I'm doing. That includes other places too, many other places.
Statutorily, it takes a period of time. Diplomatically, takes a period of time. But, you know, we're in many countries, many, many countries. I--I'm embarrassed to tell you how many. I know the exact number, but I'm embarrassed to say it because it's so foolish. We're in countries--we're protecting countries that don't even like us. They take advantage of us. They don't pay; nothing.
You probably saw--some of you wrote and covered the fact that we're sending some additional troops to Saudi Arabia. That's true. And I appreciate the fact that I negotiated for a short period of time, a matter of minutes, with Saudi Arabia, and they've agreed to pay for the full cost of all of that deployment and more, much more.
They're a very rich country. They should be paying, and so should many other countries be paying if they want this kind of protection. Same thing with NATO. We're at 4 percent and other countries are at 1 percent. And certainly a European country benefits much more than we do with NATO.
I mean, it's there for a reason. And perhaps we benefit, but not nearly as much as the European countries. Some people say we don't benefit at all. We put ourselves in harm's way, but we do that for Europe but then they treat us badly on trade; not fair.
So, I would say that we're in a great position. We're doing what I said. We have two countries that are going to argue over their border. Hopefully, they'll work it out. We're going to try and work it out. I think our vice president, who's a very capable man, will do well tomorrow he is going to meet with President Erdogan. President Erdogan said he wouldn't meet with anybody and he took that back just a little while ago and he said, no I will. And, I think they'll have a successful meeting. If they don't the sanctions and tariffs and other things we are doing and will do are doing to Turkey will be devastating to Turkey's economy. I got past the bunts at home. Nobody else could do it. The previous administration tried very hard. They were unable to do it. I did it very quickly. And, let's see what happens but I think we will be successful. But we got to get out of the endless wars we have to bring our troops back home.
I go to Walter Reed and I gave our purple hearts just did it on Friday. I see the--the incredible soldiers coming home to Dover, coming home in a coffin on areas that we have nothing to do with, we have nothing to do with. And it's heartbreaking. I sign letters all the time to parents whose son was shot in different places in the Middle East, mostly. It's very heartbreaking to see. Very heartbreaking.
So, I've said it and it's through strength not through weakness. Much harder to do what I'm doing. I could be like all of these others oh just leave them there, leave them there. No, I can't do it. Much easier for me probably politically better for me just to say we will leave a lot of people there and we will fight they don't even know what they are fighting for. It's much more difficult politically. It's not politically expedient it's just the opposite. And, I have people even on my side they want to fight. I say, why are we fighting? I don't know. They don't' even know.
So you have Syria and you have Turkey they are going to argue it out. Maybe they're going to fight it out but our men aren't going to get killed over it. And just one other thing--they've been fighting for hundreds of years. This has been going on for hundreds of years.