(CNSNews.com) - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday defended President Trump's decision to remove U.S. troops from northern Syria, allowing Turkey to conduct its "long-planned operation" to clear the area of Syrian Kurds, whom Turkey considers terrorists, but the U.S. considers allies.
Turkish troops began their attack on Wednesday.
PBS's Judy Woodruff asked Pompeo about what will happen, now that the "U.S. has given Turkey a green light."
"Yes, well, that's just false. The United States didn't give Turkey a green light," Pompeo responded.
The mission was that, when we came into office, there were people being beheaded, people being burned, people in cages. President Trump made the decision that we would begin a campaign that would take down the caliphate. We have succeeded in that.
On the phone call on Sunday night, it became very clear that there were American soldiers that were going to be at risk. And the president made a decision to put them in a place where they were out of harm's way. That's what we have done.
President Trump has been unambiguous about making sure that radical Islamic terrorism, wherever we find it, this administration will take it seriously. And I think the success that we have had in Syria, along with many allies of the defeat ISIS coalition that the State Department put together numbers countries in the dozens and dozens.
I'm confident that we will continue to protect the American people from that terrorist threat.
Asked if he still view the Kurdish YPG as a U.S. ally, Pompeo said, "The Turks have a legitimate security concern. We have talked about that. I have talked about that repeatedly. They have a terrorist threat to their South.
"We have been working to make sure that we did what we could to prevent that terror threat from striking the people in Turkey, while trying to achieve what is in America's best interest, the threat from radical Islamic terrorism emanating from Syria. We will continue to do that."
A number of Republicans have joined Democrats in criticizing President Trump's decision to stand aside for Turkey:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is co-sponsoring a bill to impose economic sanctions on Turkey over its incursion into Syria. Among other criticisms, Graham said the move will reinvigorate ISIS.
"That's certainly not what I believe will happen," Pompeo said.
I'm -- I'm confident that President Trump understands the threat. Remember where we were -- and I love Senator Graham. He's a friend. But remember where we were when this administration came into office, and now just judge us by our results.
We have achieved a good outcome there. We have taken down the caliphate. There are ISIS remnants that remain. We will continue to be in a position to do what we need to do to keep the American people as safe as we possibly can from this threat.
But it is not only in Syria. It emanates from Iraq. There are a dozen other countries where the threat from radical Islamic terrorism continues to exist. And we, the United States, has to make sure we position our forces, our resources appropriately to reduce that threat to the United States.
That's the -- that's the mission set, Judy.
Woodruff followed up: "But just as a quick clarification, you're saying the U.S. doesn't take responsibility for whatever the outcome is here, casualties, ISIS reemergence, and so forth?" she asked.
Pompeo responded, "We're going to work to make sure that ISIS doesn't have the caliphate that extends across a broad swathe of Syria in Iraq, which is the place that we found ourselves when this president took office."
President Trump, meanwhile, said he thinks "it's okay" that Sen. Graham plans to introduce sanctions on Turkey.
I think it's okay. I--I've already told that to President Erdogan. Far more than sanctions, I want to -- I'll do far more than sanctions. Lindsey and I feel differently. I think Lindsey would like to stay there for the next 200 years and maybe add a couple hundred thousand people every place. But I disagree with Lindsey on that.
But I will tell you that I do agree on sanctions, but I actually think much tougher than sanctions if he doesn't do it in as humane a way as possible. But I've got him to stop for--virtually from the first day that I was in office. But they wanted to fight and that's the way it is, and they've done it for so long.
A reporter asked Trump what he means when he talks about a "humane" way for Turkey to attack the Kurds:
"Well, we're going to have to see," Trump said. "We're going to have to define that as we go along. They want to--if you listen to Erdogan, he wants to have people go back to where they came from, go back to Syria. Right now he's holding--in all fairness to him, he's holding millions of people (Syrian refugees) that would be all over the place if he wasn't holding them. So, he wants to repatriate. He wants to have them to go back into the area that he's looking at.
"But we'll see. We'll see how he does it. He could do it in a soft manner. He could do it in a very tough manner. And if he does it unfairly, he's going to pay a very big economic price."
Trump told reporters that Turkey has wanted to do this "for many years," and he noted that the Turks and the Kurds have been fighting each other for centuries.
"We were put into this battle. Interjected. It was supposed to be a 30-day period, and we've been there for many, many years. And it's time to get a--speaking to both sides, we've told President Erdogan how we feel, but we are speaking to both sides and we are seeing what can be made out of a situation.
But we have no soldiers in the area. You know, we're getting out of the endless wars. We have to do it. And eventually, somebody was going to have to make the decision. And frankly, we're getting a lot of praise from that decision."
Trump said it's time for the U.S. to stop being a "police force" in the region.
"It has to be done. Otherwise you're never going to do it. At the same time, were dealing with both sides. We're going to see what we can do."
Trump says he will "wipe out" the Turkish economy if Turkey tries to wipe out the Kurds.
"I hope that he will act rationally," Trump said of Turkish President Erdogan.