US President Donald Trump defended his actions in Syria Wednesday as "strategically brilliant," describing the Kurdish rebel PKK, who have waged a decades-long insurgency against Ankara, were "probably" a bigger terror threat than the Islamic State group.
Trump disparaged the Kurdish allies he abandoned in the face of a Turkish offensive as "not angels."
He spoke at a news conference at the White House as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prepared to travel to Turkey to try to persuade President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to halt the offensive.
"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," Trump told White House reporters.
Tens of thousands have died since the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. The PKK is considered a terror group by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.
"I view the situation on the Turkish border with Syria to be, for the United States, strategically brilliant," Trump said, alongside visiting Italian President Sergio Mattarelli.
"Our soldiers are out of there, our soldiers are totally safe. They've got to work it out," he added.
"Turkey has gone into Syria. If Turkey goes into Syria, that's between Turkey and Syria -- it's not between Turkey and the United States, like a lot of stupid people would like you to believe."
Trump expressed confidence that US nuclear weapons stored at Turkey's Incirlik air base were secure, despite flaring tensions between Ankara and its NATO allies over the Syrian incursion.
And he minimized the escape of Islamic State fighters who had been held by the Kurds as an attempt to "make us look like, 'Oh, gee, we have to get right back in there'."