Donald Trump has defended his decision to pull US troops out of northern Syria and pave the way for a Turkish assault on the region, by noting Kurds did not fight alongside the US during the invasion of Europe in World War Two.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday night, the president said he had read a “very, very powerful article” and was evidently full of new-found, but not entirely accurate historical knowledge.
Trump claimed the Kurds “didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy as an example”, adding: “We have spent a tremendous amount of money helping the Kurds.”
The Kurds are an ethnic group some 40 million strong, scattered across Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria but without their own country, with very little geopolitical interest in the beaches of northern France.
During World War Two, most were consumed with their own struggles to establish a Kurdish homeland in the Middle East, but some did fight alongside the Allies as part of units called the Assyrian Levies established by the British.
The president’s extraordinary comments were made in response to almost universal criticism of his decision to pave the way for a Turkish assault on Kurdish forces in Northern Syria.
The Kurds have fought alongside the US in Syria for five years in the battle against Islamic State (ISIS) in the region and have lost around 11,000 fighters.
Trump later doubled down on his comments in a tweet which reposted a video of his speech with the heading: “A different take!”
Reaction elsewhere was one of disbelief.
As Turkey launched an attack on Kurdish militia positions on Wednesday, Trump aligned himself with anti-war voices in the Republican Party like Senator Rand Paul, saying the United States should have never been involved in conflicts in the Middle East in the first place.
Pressed on the situation by reporters during a White House event, Trump said he was open to imposing sanctions on Turkey if the Turks do not treat the Kurds humanely, Reuters reports.
Asked what he would do if Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan were to wipe out the Kurds, Trump said: “I will wipe out his economy if he does that.”
The Trump pullout has prompted bipartisan concerns that some of the thousands of Islamic State fighters held by Kurdish-led forces might escape in the chaos surrounding the Turkish incursion.
Trump said many of these fighters are of European origin and that he had given European nations four chances to take responsibility for them.
Asked if he had any concerns that some of these ISIS fighters could escape and pose a threat elsewhere, Trump adopted a dismissive tone.
“Well, they’re going to be escaping to Europe. That’s where they want to go,” he said.