TILLIS GIVES TRUMP "BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT" ON BETRAYAL OF KURDS: U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis said Wednesday he’s giving President Donald Trump “the benefit of the doubt” on his decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria, breaking with fellow Republicans who’ve criticized the decision. Tillis’s comments came hours after Turkey launched strikes against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria. The president announced his decision to withdraw troops in a tweet on Sunday. Since then, many Republican senators — including Trump allies such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — have condemned it. Tillis said while he’s concerned about the situation, “The president may be working on more information than I have."
TRUMP STUBBORNLY DEFENDS U.S. WITHDRAWAL FROM SYRIA, CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS TRY TO GROW A SPINE: President Donald Trump lashed out Wednesday over sharp bipartisan criticism of his decision to pull back U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, saying he is focused on the “BIG PICTURE” that does not include American involvement in “stupid endless wars” in the Middle East. “Fighting between various groups that has been going on for hundreds of years. USA should never have been in Middle East,” Trump said in a series of morning tweets. “The stupid endless wars, for us, are ending!” Turkey launched its offensive Wednesday against Kurdish fighters in Syria, who have helped the U.S. against the Islamic State. Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists, and Trump’s decision to pull back U.S. troops leaves them vulnerable to the military onslaught. Trump’s decision is being condemned by some of his staunchest Republican allies. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close Trump ally, stepped up his criticism of the president Wednesday, telling “Fox & Friends” that if Trump “follows through with this, it would be the biggest mistake of his presidency.”
TURKEY WASTED NO TIME BEFORE ATTACKING KURDS IN NORTHEAST SYRIA: The operation, including air and ground forces, targeted villages along the border with Syria and “continued successfully” early Thursday, the second day of the offensive, the ministry said in a statement. Turkey says it aims to create a “safe zone” in northeast Syria, where Kurdish-led forces are in control, but critics fear it could plunge the region into a fresh crisis. Kurdish officials pushed back against claims of a Turkish advance, saying their fighters had repelled a ground incursion near the town of Tel Abyad overnight. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which partnered with U.S. troops to battle the Islamic State in Syria, said Thursday that Turkish shelling had targeted a prison holding some of the jihadist group’s fighters in the northeastern city of Qamishli. Thousands of Islamic State prisoners and their families are being held in camps and jails administered by Syrian Kurdish authorities. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitoring group, said that 16 SDF fighters had been killed since the operation began Wednesday, including in Ras al-Ayn, which is 75 miles east of Tel Abyad.
BILL THAT WOULD SHORTEN PRISON SENTENCES FOR DRUG OFFENSES GATHERS STEAM IN NC GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Some drug offenders in North Carolina could get lower prison sentences and fines in narrow circumstances in legislation advancing again at the General Assembly. The Senate scheduled floor debate on Thursday on the "First Step Act." Supporters say it would give a break to people with drug addictions who face long mandatory sentences only because they possessed levels of illegal drugs that meet trafficking definitions. A judge would have to determine several factors were met, including that there's no substantial evidence a defendant has ever sold or delivered drugs. Courts currently have some discretion to reduce sentences when defendants assist law enforcement in an investigation. The measure has been worked on extensively, and bill supporter Sen. Floyd McKissick of Durham said groups representing sheriffs and district attorneys now support it.
AFTER FEMA DROPS THE BALL ON OCRACOKE RELIEF, GENERAL ASSEMBLY STEPS UP: The House voted Wednesday to forgive up to 20 additional missed school days for Ocracoke students. Senate Bill 312 would also guarantee that all Ocracoke school personnel would be paid for the missed days. The measure now goes back to the Senate. Sponsor Rep. Bobby Hanig, R-Dare, whose district includes Ocracoke, said the measure, a rewrite of an unrelated Senate bill, would relieve some of the financial pressure on teachers and staff at the school and make it easier for students to complete their school year at a normal time. Hanig expressed frustration at the Federal Emergency Management Agency's decision Tuesday to deny the state’s application for individual disaster relief for Ocracoke residents. Federal officials said the isolated island’s damage was too localized to meet the agency’s minimum damage threshold.