U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday sought to claim credit for saving the lives of tens of thousands of Kurds and accomplishing a “great outcome” in Syria — attempting to spin his tacit approval of Turkeys deadly invasion and the resulting escape of dozens of Islamic State militants as a political win.
During a televised address from the White House, Trump praised the five-day cease-fire agreement Vice President Mike Pence negotiated last Thursday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and announced that officials in Ankara would not direct the military to resume its assault.
“Early this morning, the government of Turkey informed my administration that they would be stopping combat and their offensive in Syria, and making the cease-fire permanent, and it will indeed be permanent,” Trump said, going on to express skepticism that the violence in the Middle East would indeed come to an end.
“However, you would also define the word permanent in that part of the world as somewhat questionable. We all understand that,” he said. “But I do believe it will be permanent.”
In response to the new commitment, the president said he had instructed the Treasury Department to lift the sanctions it imposed on Turkey last week. He also revealed that “a small number of U.S. troops will remain in the area” to protect Syrias lucrative oil fields, while asserting that American forces were no longer responsible for preventing a potential ISIS resurgence.
“Now Turkey, Syria, and others in the region must work to ensure that ISIS does not regain any territory,” he said. “Its their neighborhood. They have to maintain it. They have to take care of it.”
Trump had previously announced the withdrawal of the last American soldiers from northeastern Syria last week, provoking outrage from some fellow Republicans who accused him of paving the way for Turkey to slaughter the U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters who helped quash ISIS forces in the region.
“Todays announcement validates our course of action with Turkey, that only a couple of weeks ago was scorned. And now people are saying, Wow, what a great outcome, congratulations,'” Trump said, flanked by Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert OBrien.
“Its too early, to me, to be congratulated,” the president continued. “But weve done a good job. Weve saved a lot of lives.”
Despite the largely optimistic tone of Trumps remarks, the safety of the Syrian Kurds remains far from assured amid encroaching threats from Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who reached an accord Tuesday to further repel the Kurdish militias — driving the fighters away from Syrian territory just south of Turkeys border.
Earlier Wednesday, the Kremlin deployed Russian military police to begin patrolling part of the Syrian border, according to the Associated Press, and the Turkish military had announced it would not restart its offensive “at this stage” following the conclusion of the U.S.-brokered cease-fire.
Apart from Moscows new geopolitical influence, the rapid American pullout has also contributed to fears by members of Congress and human rights activists that the Kurds and other ethnic and religious minorities could soon be threatened by mass atrocities such as ethnic cleansing.
Meanwhile, the Pentagons plan to relocate the outgoing American troops has been met with resistance by Iraqs government.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday the nearly 1,000 U.S. soldiers shifting from Syria into western Iraq would remain there only “temporarily,” after the Iraqi military declared the American troops do not have permission to stay on a long-term basis to launch missions into Syria targeting ISIS.
Iraqi Defense Minister Najah al-Shammari told the AP following a meeting with Esper on Wednesday that the U.S. forces are simply “transiting” and would exit the country “within a time frame not exceeding four weeks.”
Back in Washington, Senate lawmakers have struggled to unify around a meaningful measure to punish Turkey for its incursion and to rebuke the controversial maneuvers by the commander in chief that produced the crisis.
“Its unthinkable that Turkey would not suffer consequences for malevolent behavior which was contrary to the interests of the United States and our friendsRead More – Source