U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States would get out of Syria "over a period of time" and wants to protect the U.S.-backed YPG terrorist group in the country as Washington withdraws troops.
Trump did not provide a timetable for the planned military exit from Syria, which he announced last month against the advice of top national security aides and without consulting lawmakers or U.S. allies participating in anti-Daesh operations.
During a Cabinet meeting at the White House in front of reporters, Trump said he had never discussed a reported four-month timetable for the withdrawal of 2,000 American troops stationed in Syria amid a battle against Daesh militants.
Trump said Syria was lost long ago as he called the U.S. presence in the country a "lost cause."
"We are talking about sand and death. We are not talking about, you know, vast wealth, we are talking about sand and death," the president said.
Trump said the YPG was selling oil to Iran and that the US has asked them to stop.
"The Kurds, our partners, are selling oil to Iran. We are not thrilled about that. I'm not happy about it at all," Trump said.
"We want to protect the Kurds, nevertheless, we want to protect the Kurds but I don't want to be in Syria forever," he said.
Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced on Dec. 20 that he was stepping down, but would stay on the job until the end of February. Three days later, Trump said he was replacing Mattis with the second-ranking defense official, Pat Shanahan, on New Year's Day.
Trump said he fired Mattis and the former secretary "couldn't believe" how much federal money Trump had helped secure for the military.
Trump then asked rhetorically "What's he done for me?"
Trump also said he wasn't happy with Mattis' work in Afghanistan. Trump says the U.S. should let the Taliban and Daesh militants fight each other there.
The U.S. has been providing support to the PKK's Syrian affiliate YPG under the pretext of fighting against Daesh, despite outcry from Ankara, who views the terrorist group's presence on its southern border as a grave threat.
Ankara has also called on the U.S. to uphold its end of the deal and show significant progress on the Manbij agreement reached in June. In line with the agreement, Turkey is expecting a complete withdrawal of the YPG terrorists from Manbij and its surrounding areas.
After repeated demands for Washington to end its support to the YPG, Ankara signaled that it may launch a major cross-border operation in the area stretching from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border to clear the terrorist group from its border region.
Previously, Turkey targeted the YPG in two cross-border operations, Operation Euphrates Shield launched in August 2016 and Operation Olive Branch in January 2018, as well as through air and artillery strikes.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU -- has been responsible for the deaths of some 40,000 people, including women and children.