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U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn speaks to media following a Chattanooga Rotary Club luncheon at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Thursday, April 25, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Sen. Blackburn said during a speech that Tennesseeans are ready to move on from the Mueller investigation.

NASHVILLE — U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn on Tuesday was sharply critical of President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria, saying "the U.S. does not abandon partners who have made sacrifices and contributions to protect our national security interests."

With the ongoing invasion by Turkey into Kurdish- held territories in northern Syria now in its seventh day, the Tennessee Republican, normally a staunch Trump defender, said the "violence that we are seeing and human suffering on the ground is something that is abhorrent."

While noting she does "applaud the Trump administration for pledging $50 million in emergency funds for humanitarian aid to Syria," Blackburn also told state-based reporters during her teleconference call "those aid dollars will not keep the Kurds protected. It will not prevent ISIS resurgence or protect against Russian or Iranian influence in Syria."

Rather, Blackburn said, "a continued American presence is what is going to help. Keep that region safe and, thereby, it's going to keep us safe because we do not need these ISIS fighters reforming and going back into these cells and carrying out violence across the globe."

Numerous concerns have been raised about the escape of a number of Islamic State militants held in Kurd-run prisons.

Blackburn did call the president's plan to levy sanctions to try to force Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to halt his campaign "the right move to hold the Turks accountable for their destabilizing actions. And we're going to continue to follow this very closely."

The freshman senator also said that as a Senate Armed Services Committee member she plans to work with colleagues to conduct field hearings, "fact finding and oversight on this current situation in Syria."

There are an estimated 15,000 Kurdish people living in Nashville. It's the largest community of Kurds in the U.S., Blackburn noted.

Trump gave Erdogan a green light for the military incursion against Kurdish fighters who have been fighting as allies with U.S. troops. The sanctions he announced Monday aren't viewed as strong enough, according to analysts and financial advisers cited by The Associated Press. Congress has been talking about tougher sanctions.

The president has long advocated for the U.S. to leave Syria. But he could find Congress pushing even tougher sanctions against Ankara. Meanwhile, fearful Kurds have rushed to align themselves with both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russia, scrambling alliances in a volatile region.

An unapologetic Trump last weekend defended his decision, tweeting the "Kurds and Turkey have been fighting for many years. Turkey considers the PKK the worst terrorists of all. Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other. Let them!"

The situation, which has prompted concerns about the safety of remaining U.S. troops in Syria, has resulted in rare public criticism of Trump among his normally staunch GOP allies like Blackburn in Congress.

And from others.

Televangelist and Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson last week said he was "absolutely appalled" by Trump's Syria troop withdrawal and warned the president is "in danger of losing the mandate of heaven" over his Syria decision.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @Andy Sher1.

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