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Trump defends Syria pullout amid criticism from Republicans and media allies

The president is facing backlash, even from his typical supporters, for suggesting that the Islamic State has been defeated.

Against the advice of many in his own administration, President Donald Trump is pulling U.S. troops out of Syria.
Against the advice of many in his own administration, President Donald Trump is pulling U.S. troops out of Syria.Read moreEvan Vucci / AP

President Donald Trump is defending his decision to immediately withdraw about 2,000 American troops from Syria after facing backlash for claiming that the Islamic State was defeated.

In a series of tweets sent Thursday morning, Trump said he campaigned on the idea of removing American troops from Syria, and that leaving the war-torn country “was no surprise.”

Trump’s defense on Twitter of his plan came just minutes after Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade, who is among the president’s loudest supporters at Fox News, blasted the move to withdraw troops as “stunning” and “totally irresponsible.”

“Nobody thinks that ISIS is defeated. Nobody who understands who was born after 2000 who sees what’s happened after 9/11, understands,” Kilmeade said.

The host echoed concerns from lawmakers, military experts and members of Trump’s own administration that the move cedes power to Iran, Russia, and Turkey.

Senior Trump officials, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, national security adviser John Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have spoken about the need to remain in Syria, not only to defeat the Islamic State, but to also combat the influence of Iran.

Many Republicans on Capitol Hill have also criticized the president’s order of a sudden withdrawal. South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, normally an outspoken ally of the president, called the decision “disastrous to our own national security” and blasted the idea that we’ve defeated the Islamic State as “fake news.”

Experts have warned that America’s withdrawal could lead to Turkey launching an offensive against the Kurds, the United States' main partner in battling the Islamic State in Syria, a topic Kilmeade also touched on.

“They did all our fighting and now we’re abandoning them,” he said. “What does that say for future allies?”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, welcomed Trump’s decision to pull American troops out of Syria, according to the Associated Press. Speaking at his annual news conference on Thursday, Putin called the U.S. presence in Syria illegitimate and said “if the U.S. decided to withdraw its contingent, it has done the right thing."

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was among the few politicians to praise Trump’s decision, writing on Twitter Wednesday that he was happy to see a president “declare victory and bring our troops out of a war. It’s been a long time since that has happened.”

Last week, Brett H. McGurk, the presidential envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, told reporters that if the mission was to completely defeat the Islamic State, “we can’t just pick up and leave. We want to stay on the ground and make sure that stability can be maintained in these areas.”

Trump was also widely criticizing for suggesting American troops who were killed fighting the Islamic State would support his decision to pull out of Syria.

“Our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now. We won. And that’s the way we want it,” Trump said in a video from the White House lawn shared on Twitter Wednesday afternoon.

The president then pointed to the sky and concluded, “And that’s the way they want it.”

“It is more than a little strange speak definitively about the desires and policy views of US service members who have died fighting in Syria and Iraq,” MSNBC host Chris Hayes wrote on Twitter.