WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday downplayed the escalating tensions in the Middle East in the aftermath of his abrupt withdrawal of American troops from northeastern Syria.
"It's not our border," Trump said speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, referring to Kurdish forces that, until recently, fought side by side with the United States forces as "no angels."
"If Russia wants to get involved with Syria, that's really up to them," Trump continued. "We shouldn't be losing lives over it."
"We're watching and we're negotiating and we're trying to get Turkey to do the right thing," the president added, describing the U.S.'s decision to leave the area as "strategically brilliant."
Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria this month has left the Middle East in chaos as Kurdish troops have felt abandoned by the U.S. and left struggling to fend off invading Turkish forces. The absence of the U.S. military has created a power vacuum in the region, allowing Russia to absorb the Kurdish forces and extend their influence in the area.
Trump's comments come as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Turkey later on Wednesday to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan has rejected U.S. calls for a cease-fire in the escalating Syria conflict ahead of a meeting.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan through the years
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan through the years
Rafah leader R. Tayyip Erdogan speaks with activists. (Photo by Antoine GYORI/Sygma via Getty Images)
Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Istanbul mayor). (Photo by SIDALI-DJENIDI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Former prime pinister and leader of the Islamic Welfare Party Necmettin Erbakan, left, addresses supporters accompanied by Mayor of Istanbul Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, and former defense minister Sevket Kazan, right, during a fast-breaking dinner during the holy month of Ramadan in Istanbul Sunday, Jan. 18, 1998. The Constitutional Court decided on Friday to close Welfare Party for violating the constitution's secular principles. The court also placed a political ban on Erbakan, 71, who had headed the Islamic movement for nearly three decades. (AP Photo/Murad Sezer)
Mayor of Istanbul Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, waves at his supporters with Mayor of Ankara Melih Gokcek, left, and Virtue Party member Ismail Kahraman, right, in Istanbul, Wednesday, April 22, 1998. Istanbul's pro-Islamic mayor denied that he had been trying to ferment discord, a day after learning that he had been sentenced to prison for inciting religious hatred. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is considered as the likely upcoming leader of the Islamic Virtue Party, but if convicted, cannot hold any official possisions. (AP Photo/Murad Sezer)
German opposition Christian Democrats' chairwoman Angela Merkel, right, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan address a news conference after their official talks in Berlin on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2003. (AP Photo/Jan Bauer)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, speaks privately to Prof. Mehmet Aydin, Turkey's Minister of Religious Affairs, at a press conference at the United Nations in New York, Monday, Dec. 18, 2006. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki shake hands before their talks in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2008. Maliki is in Turkey for talks on fighting Kurdish rebels and boosting bilateral relations.(AP Photo/Umit Bektas, Pool)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures at Kosovo residents gathered to welcome his visit in the town of Prizren on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010. Erdogan said Turkey was one of the first countries recognizing Kosovo after the country declared its independence on Feb. 17, 2008, "this is the first visit to Kosovo in prime ministerial level from Turkey," he added. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
FILE - In this Friday, May 16, 2008, file photo Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, left, with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, 2nd right, and his wife Emine Erdogan, second left, and Turkish soccer star Hakan Sukur, right, during a garden party at the British Embassy in Ankara. Turkey's state-run news agency reports Friday, Aug. 12, 2016 authorities have issued an arrest warrant for former soccer star and legislator Hakan Sukur over his alleged links to a U.S.-based Muslim cleric who is accused by Turkey of masterminding last month's failed coup. (AP Photo/Firat Yurdakul, Pool, File)
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hands out presents following his speech at a local municipality event in Istanbul, Saturday, May 16, 2015. Erdogan has criticized Egypt for sentencing ousted President Mohammed Morsi to death, saying the country was returning to the "old Egypt" by rolling back democracy. On Saturday, an Egyptian court sentenced Morsi to death over his part in a mass prison break that took place during the 2011 uprising that toppled Egypt's long-time leader Hosni Mubarak. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis}
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, receives a copy of the Holy Quran, Islam's holy book, at an international students meeting in Istanbul, Saturday, May 16, 2015. Erdogan has criticized Egypt for sentencing ousted President Mohammed Morsi to death, saying the country was returning to the "old Egypt" by rolling back democracy. On Saturday, an Egyptian court sentenced Morsi to death over his part in a mass prison break that took place during the 2011 uprising that toppled Egypt's long-time leader Hosni Mubarak. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses the members of his ruling Justice and Development Party in Istanbul, late Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. Erdogan is trying to bring Turkey's relations with European nations back on track following a stormy 2017 that saw the Turkish leader quarrel with European leaders and accuse them of Nazi-like behavior.(Yasin Bulbul/Pool Photo via AP)
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When asked by reporters about Pence's visit to Turkey, Trump expressed little concern and minimized the U.S.’s role in resolving the conflict.
"Our soldiers are out of there. Our soldiers are totally safe," Trump said. "They've got to work it out. Maybe they can do it without fighting."
Trump also brushed off reports that the some members of the Islamic State have escaped from captivity.
"By the way, everybody hates ISIS," Trump said. "Some were released just for effect to make it look like ‘oh jee, we gotta get back in there.'"