Former White House chief of staff John Kelly on Saturday criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, labeling it as a “catastrophically bad idea.”
“I want to get out of the endless wars, too. The problem is, the other side, even if we wanted to surrender, will not take our surrender. They hate us because of who we are, the way we live our lives, the way we worship our God,” Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, said during a conference held by the Washington Examiner.
“What was working in Syria was that for very little investment, the Kurds were doing all the fighting, the vast majority of the dying, and we were providing intelligence and fire support assistance. And we were winning,” he added.
Kelly then called the pullout a”catastrophically bad idea” and expressed worry that the move will hurt the U.S.’s influence in the Middle East.
It didn’t happen while I was there — and a couple of other people recently left the administration and then he went with his instinct. But it was, on a number of levels, the wrong thing to do and it has opened the way for the Russians to be very, very influential in the Middle East.
Kelly’s remarks come after President Trump on Wednesday announced a “major breakthrough” in Syria, where a Turkish military offensive had been targeting Kurdish forces — and said the U.S. has lifted sanctions on the regime in Ankara.
Trump told reporters at a news conference he received assurances the cease-fire, set for five days initially, will be permanent. There also will be a 20-mile safe zone along Syria’s border with Turkey, the president added.
The move to lift sanctions came exactly two weeks after Turkish forces began the offensive in northeast Syria, which targeted Kurdish fighters with the goal of clearing out a “safe zone” to repatriate thousands of Syrians who have fled across the border into Turkey.
The president said some U.S. troops will remain to guard oil fields.
“We have secured the oil and therefore a small number of U.S. troops will remain in the area,” he said. “We will be deciding what we’re going to do with it in the future.”
President Trump announced plans earlier this month to remove U.S. troops after a discussion with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. When U.S. convoys pulled out, Turkish forces invaded Syria unilaterally with the plan to drive Kurds out of the border zone.
The UPI contributed to this report.