Trump says Kurds 'not angels', dubs PKK 'worse than ISIL'

Trump says Turkish group PKK probably a bigger 'terrorist threat' than ISIL as he faces criticism over his Syria move.

    The US House of Representatives voted to condemn Trump's decision to withdraw troops from northeast Syria [Alex Brandon/AP]
    The US House of Representatives voted to condemn Trump's decision to withdraw troops from northeast Syria [Alex Brandon/AP]

    US President Donald Trump has hailed his surprise decision to withdraw US troops from Syria as "strategically brilliant", declaring that the Kurds were "not angels".

    Speaking to reporters at the White House on Wednesday, Trump said the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long armed campaign against Ankara, were "probably" a bigger "terrorist threat" than the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) armed group.

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    "Now the PKK, which is part of the Kurds, as you know, is probably worse at terror, and more of a terrorist threat in many ways than ISIS," he said referring to the group which has been designated a terrorist group by the US, EU and Turkey.

    "I'm not going to get involved in a war between Turkey and Syria, especially when, if you look at the Kurds, and again I say this with great respect, they're no angels," he added.

    The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spearheaded by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), was founded in 2015 and has helped the United States in its fight against ISIL.

    Ankara says its military operation is against the YPG, which it considers a "terrorist" group.

    Bizarre letter to Erdogan

    The president's remarks contradicted his own statements made last week as well as the official assessment of his administration that criticised the Turkish military offensive.

    In a bizarrely worded letter published by Fox Business, Trump told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan "don't be a fool", saying that he risked being branded a "devil" due to the Turkish-led offensive into northeast Syria.

    In the letter - dated October 9, the day the offensive was launched - Trump called on Erdogan "to make a good deal", warning him of the possible "destruction" of Turkey's economy if the offensive continued.

    "You don't want to be responsible for the slaughtering of thousands of people, and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy," he wrote. 

    "History will look on your favorably if you get this done the right and humane way," Trump wrote in the letter which the White House confirmed was real.

    "It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don't happen.

    "Don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool!"

    The US House of Representatives voted 354-60 on Wednesday to condemn Trump's decision to withdraw some 1,000 US special forces from northeast Syria, effectively clearing the way for Turkey's military operation against Kurdish forces there.

    The bipartisan vote was a stark warning to the president that Congress did not support his abrupt decision, which left Kurdish fighters to fend for themselves. They later joined hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against Turkey.

    Meanwhile, US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are on their way to Ankara to hold talks with Erdogan on the Turkish offensive.

    SOURCE: News agencies