President Donald Trump announced the lifting of sanctions on Turkey and hailed a ceasefire in Syria as a ‘breakthrough’ on its fifth day in a White House speech where he both championed the outcome on the ground and expressed a bleak view of Middle East quagmires.
‘Let someone fight over this long-bloodstained sand,’ Trump told the country, as he announced that only a small number of U.S. troops would remain in Syria to protect oil resources.
‘Now people are saying wow what a great outcome, congratulations,’ the president said, even as Democrats and some Republican in Congress blasted the withdrawal of U.S. troops despite longstanding alliances with Kurdish forces who helped the U.S. battle ISIS terrorists.
Trump announced that sanctions his administration imposed just days ago to protest Turkey’s invasion of Syria would be lifted.
President Donald Trump announced U.S. sanctions on Turkey will be lifted following a five-day cease fire negotiated after its invasion of Syrian territory to go after Kurdish elements
‘The sanctions will be lifted unless something happens that we are unhappy with,’ Trump said, in one of several cases during remarks in the White House Diplomatic reception room where he quickly contradicted or hedged his own comments.
After saying the lifting of sanctions would be permanent, Trump said: ‘You would define the word permanent in that part of the world as somewhat questionable.’
He said he was announcing a ‘major breakthrough toward achieving a better future for Syria and for the Middle East. It’s been a long time,’ although his comments came after Russia and Turkey announced their own deal to jointly patrol a 19-mile-wide ‘safe zone.’
Trump said the cease fire has held ‘well – beyond most expectations,’ although some patients were photographed showing horrendous injuries sustained during the period.
Trump cheered the withdrawal of U.S. troops and blasted President Obama for causing the long-term commitment, but also said: ‘A small number of US troops will stay in the area where they have the oil, and we will be protecting it.’
‘We were supposed to be there for 30 days … they stayed for almost 10 years,’ Trump lamented.
US President Donald Trump speaks about Syria in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC, October 23, 2019 as US Vice President Mike Pence(L), US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and new National Security adviser Robert OBrien(R) look on
Describing the cease fire, Trump said: ‘Early this morning, the government of Turkey informed my administration that they would be stopping combat and their offensive in Syria and making the ceasefire permanent, and it will indeed be permanent. However you would also define the word permanent in that part of the world as somewhat questionable, we all understand that. But I do believe it will be permanent.’
Trump interspersed comments on the cost of war with cheerleading at the strategic repositioning. Some U.S. forces will remain to secure oil, others are being sent to neighboring Iraq.
‘This was an outcome created by us, the United States, and nobody else, no other nation, very simple. And we’re willing to take blame and we’re also willing to take credit. This is something they’ve been trying nto do for many many decades,’ Trump said. He spoke for 15 minutes, reading from a tele-e-prompter. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was with him.
Although critics have blamed Trump for providing a green light to Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s decision to invade and shell Kurdish areas, Trump said: ‘We have saved the lives of many many Kurds.’
U.S.-allied Kurdish forces were forced to abandon positions including jails holding ISIS members and family members, but Trump cast the losses as minimal.
‘There were a few that got out, a small number relatively speaking, and they’ve been largely recaptured,’ the president said.
He said his administration’s actions averted a confrontation that would have been far worse.
‘The war was going to be vicious and probably not very long ,’ he said. He said the U.S. reserves the right to reimpose ‘crippling sanctions’ on Turkey.
Trump thanked the Syrian Democratic Forces for their sacrifices.
‘They’ve been terrific,’ Trump said.
He said the U.S. only could have prevented the invasion by Turkey, a key ally, through a massive troop deployment.
Halting the incursion by military force would have required deploying tens of thousands of American troops against turkey
Halting the incursion by military force would have required deploying tens of thousands of American troops against Turkey.
The president offered praise both for Erdogan and for Mazloum Kobani, who heads the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
SDF spokesman Bustafa Bali tweeted on Mazloum’s behalf: ‘I just spoke with President Trump and explained to him the Turkish violations of the truce that would not have been possible without his great efforts.’ He continued: ‘We THANK President Trump for his tireless efforts that stopped the brutal Turkish attack and jihadist groups on our people.’ Then he added: ‘President Trump promised to maintain partnership with SDF and long-term support at various spheres,’ without further explanation.
Trump said Wednesday that the ceasefire his administration negotiated last week on the Turkish-Syrian border is intact, and promised a public statement providing details in the late morning.
‘Big success on the Turkey/Syria Border. Safe Zone created! Ceasefire has held and combat missions have ended,’ the president announced on Twitter.
‘Kurds are safe and have worked very nicely with us. Captured ISIS prisoners secured. I will be making a statement at 11:00 A.M. from the White House. Thank you!’
Despite Turkey’s claims that it has paused its military onslaught amid a ‘historic’ deal with Russia, Syrians suffered horrific burns after an explosion in a town near the Turkish border on Tuesday.
The president promised a late morning announcement to explain the state of affairs with Turkey, Syria, the Jurds and ISIS prisoners
A Syrian man sits in hospital with horrific burns on his face after badly wounded by an explosion in a border town yesterday
A map showing the area that will be patrolled by Russian and Turkish forces under the agreement struck between Putin and Erdogan
Patients were seen with horrendous wounds on their faces and bodies while a distressed young girl was carried with a badly injured leg after the blast in Ras al-Ain, which took place before a five-day ceasefire ended yesterday.
Turkey said there was ‘no need’ to resume its operations when the ceasefire expired last night, but the Kurds claim the attack is continuing.
Russian and Syrian troops will patrol the area on Wednesday to help the Kurds evacuate, under a deal struck between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Putin’s spokesman warned the Kurds that they would be ‘mauled’ by the ‘Turkish military machine’ if they do not withdraw.
Turkey said more euphemistically that it would ‘neutralize’ any remaining Kurdish fighters that its military forces come across.
Moscow has also savaged Washington for ‘betraying’ the Kurdish people after Trump pulled out U.S. troops and paved the way for Erdogan’s invasion.
Medics wipe a man’s face after he was injured in the blast in Ras al-Ain – which took place despite Turkey’s claims that it has stopped its military offensive
Turkey said there was ‘no need’ to resume its military onslaught when a five-day ceasefire ended last night – but Syrians were injured by a blast in the border area
On another day of tense political exchanges over Syria:
- A top U.S. diplomat said the U.S. was counting on both Turkey and its Kurdish opponents to fight ISIS;
- Former U.S. military head Mick Mullen said Turkey would not have invaded if U.S. forces had stayed in Syria;
- Washington and NATO gave a cautious welcome to a German plan for an internationally-enforced safe zone in Syria;
- Experts said the Turkey-Russia agreement had shattered Kurdish hopes of autonomy.
The Putin-Erdogan agreement, reached after marathon talks in Sochi yesterday, establishes Russia and Turkey as the main players in Syria after the U.S. pulled out.
From noon today, Russian military police and Syrian border guards will ‘facilitate the removal’ of Kurdish fighters and their weapons from within 18 miles of the border.
This withdrawal must be finalised within 150 hours, according to a text of the agreement released after the talks.
Once the Kurdish fighters have withdrawn, Russian and Turkish forces will then begin joint patrols along the Turkish-controlled zone.
The two countries are also said to be in talks about extra deliveries of Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems to Ankara.
In the early hours of Wednesday, Turkey said it had been informed by the U.S. that their withdrawal from the border areas had been ‘completed’.
‘At this stage, there is no further need to carry out a new operation,’ the defence ministry said in a statement.
A top U.S. diplomat said yesterday that the U.S. was counting on both Turkey and the Kurds to help fight ISIS in the region.
‘If they are not forced to face off against each other, we can rely on both of them against ISIS,’ said James Jeffrey, a special envoy for Syria.
‘We’ve done a pretty good job of bringing this attack to a halt,’ Jeffrey said. ‘Turkey has not really gained all that much from this.’
A young girl is carried away with an injured leg after an explosion in the border area in Syria
A Syrian Arab man injured by an explosion while entering the town of Ras Al-Ain is treated at a hospital on Tuesday
U.S. is counting on both Turkey and Kurdish fighters to fend off ISIS
The United States is counting on both Turkey and Kurdish fighters to fight off any ISIS resurgence in northern Syria, a senior U.S. official has said.
‘Both Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have fought against ISIS,’ said James Jeffrey, a U.S. special envoy for Syria.
‘If they are not forced to face off against each other, we can rely on both of them against ISIS,’ he said.
Jeffrey told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he was not consulted by President Donald Trump until after the start of the Turkish offensive in Syria.
‘We’ve done a pretty good job of bringing this attack to a halt,’ Jeffrey said. ‘Turkey has not really gained all that much from this.’
He estimated that the number of Kurdish victims of Turkey’s advance was ‘in the low hundreds.’
But he said that Turkish-supported Syrian opposition forces ‘in at least one instance did carry out a war crime – and we have reached out to Turkey to demand an explanation.’
Kurdish fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were key to defeating ISIS in Syria earlier this year.
However, Turkey regards many of the Kurdish fighters as terrorists and wants a buffer zone against them on its southern border.
President Trump abruptly pulled out U.S. forces earlier this month, clearing the way for the long-planned Turkish offensive.
His decision has been widely seen as a betrayal and Trump invited ridicule by declaring that the Kurds ‘didn’t help us with Normandy’.
Since the Turkish offensive began on October 9, at least 114 civilians have been killed and some 300,000 people have been displaced.
Vladimir Putin’s presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, joined in that criticism today.
‘The United States was the closest ally of the Kurds over the past few years. But in the end, the US abandoned the Kurds, actually betraying them,’ he said.
‘The US opted to abandon the Kurds on the border, almost forcing them to fight against the Turks.’
A former head of the U.S. military made the same point. Retired Admiral Mike Mullen said Erdogan ‘would not send those troops across that border if the Americans were there.’
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Vladmir Putin meet in the resort of Sochi for a summit to discuss the future of Syria
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the area of the ‘safe zone’ was calm late on Tuesday.
Erdogan had earlier threatened to resume Ankara’s military offensive if the Kurds did not withdraw.
The Turkish operation ‘is ending, and everything will depend now on the implementation of these agreements,’ Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said.
Russian forces moved in last week to support the Syrian army, whose help against Turkey was requested by the Kurds.
Moscow is a key ally of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who yesterday branded Erdogan a ‘thief’ for his incursion into Syria.
Assad called the Turkish President a ‘thief who robbed factories, wheat and fuel and is today stealing territory,’ according to state-run media.
At a speech Tuesday night in Washington, Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. ‘may well give the international community an opportunity to establish a safe zone between Turkey and the Kurdish population in Syria.’
Trump’s plan to address the nation comes amid an unusual amount of pushback from members of his own party.
In the Capitol, lawmakers from both parties are working on legislation that would slap sanctions on Turkey, including by limiting its access to arms.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell penned a Washington Post op-ed that called withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria a ‘grave strategic mistake.’
‘It will leave the American people and homeland less safe, embolden our enemies, and weaken important alliances. Sadly, the recently announced pullout risks repeating the Obama administration’s reckless withdrawal from Iraq, which facilitated the rise of the Islamic State in the first place,’ McConnell wrote.
On Tuesday McConnell introduced a Senate resolution opposing the withdrawal. ‘”If not arrested, withdrawing from Syria will invite more of the chaos that breeds terrorism and creates a vacuum our adversaries will certainly fill,’ he said.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a fierce Trump defender against the Russia probe and impeachment, reached agreement with Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland on legislation that would impose ‘severe’ sanctions Turkey. Sanctions would hit Turkey’s political leaders, as well as those who engage in military transactions with Turkey, a NATO ally, as well as the Turkish energy sector.