WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday called a Turkish military operation along the border with Syria “a bad idea” but reiterated his opposition to “endless, senseless wars,” even as leading Republicans expressed outrage and said the Turkish offensive could inflict lasting damage on Washington’s relationship with its NATO ally.
“The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea,” Mr. Trump said in a statement released by the White House.
Noting that American soldiers had been moved from the area in advance, Mr. Trump limited his criticism of Turkey and made no mention of punitive action against it.
That was a contrast with the response from Capitol Hill, where Republicans were sharply critical of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for following through with a plan he disclosed to Mr. Trump in a Sunday phone call.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican of South Carolina and a close ally of Mr. Trump’s who often speaks and golfs with the president, wrote on Twitter that a Turkish entry into Syria would be “a disaster in the making.”
“Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump administration,” he added. “This move ensures the re-emergence of ISIS.”
Mr. Graham added that he would urge the president to “change course,” and renewed a vow to punish Turkey in Congress with severe economic sanctions.
A Kurdish-led militia has fought alongside the United States in the campaign against the Islamic State, or ISIS, over the past five years. But Mr. Erdogan sees Syria’s Kurdish fighters as an enemy, and wants to create a “buffer zone” along his country’s southern border with Syria, which has been devastated by a civil war of more than eight years.
Mr. Trump asserted in his statement that “Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place.” He said he was holding the country responsible for preventing the release of ISIS fighters who are being held captive in the area and for ensuring “that ISIS does not reconstitute in any way, shape, or form.”
But echoing Mr. Graham, another leading Republican voice on foreign policy, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, wrote on Twitter that news of the Turkish action was “sickening.” She accused Mr. Trump of “leaving America’s allies to be slaughtered and enabling the return of ISIS.”
The Pentagon said the United States was providing no assistance to the militia and was drawing up contingency plans to withdraw all 1,000 American troops from northeast Syria if Turkey pushed deeper into Syrian territory.
As of noon on Wednesday, the United States military assessed that the Turkish operation was limited in scope, and that Turkish troops had not actually crossed the Syrian border. But one official said that Turkish artillery and mortar fire into Syria was intended to weaken any resistance before Turkish ground troops advanced.