Oct. 23 (UPI) — President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced a “major breakthrough” in Syria, where a Turkish military offensive had been targeting Kurdish forces — and said the United States has lifted sanctions on the regime in Ankara.
Trump told reporters at a news conference he received assurances the cease-fire, set for five days initially, will be permanent. There also will be a 20-mile safe zone along Syria’s border with Turkey, Trump added.
“The sanctions will be lifted unless something happens that we’re not happy with,” he said. “This is an outcome created by us, the United States, no other nations. We’re willing to take blame and we’re willing to take credit.
“Let someone else fight over this long bloodstained sand.”
The move to lift sanctions came exactly two weeks after Turkish forces began the offensive in northeast Syria, which targeted Kurdish fighters with the goal of clearing out a “safe zone” to repatriate thousands of Syrians who have fled across the border into Turkey.
“We have done them a great service and we’ve done a great job for all of them and now we’re getting out. We were supposed to be there for 30 days. That was almost 10 years ago.”
Turkey’s controversial offensive killed a number of civilians and Kurdish fighters formerly allied with the United States to fight terrorism and drove 200,000 people from their homes in the region.
“Our troops are safe and the pain and suffering of the three-day fight that occurred was directly responsible for our ability to make an agreement with Turkey and the Kurds that could never have been made without this short-term outburst,” Trump added Wednesday.
The president said some U.S. troops will remain to guard oil fields.
“We have secured the oil and therefore a small number of U.S. troops will remain in the area,” he said. “We will be deciding what we’re going to do with it in the future.”
Trump claimed victory on Twitter earlier Wednesday for his handling of the Syrian situation, despite critics who said he betrayed U.S. allies and created a power vacuum that Russia quickly filled.
Trump announced plans earlier this month to remove U.S. troops after a discussion with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. When U.S. convoys pulled out, Turkish forces invaded Syria unilaterally with the plan to drive Kurds out of the border zone.
Erdogan and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence brokered the cease-fire last week. As part of the deal, Turkey is granted a 20-mile deep “safe zone” that bans Kurdish militias, which Ankara considers terrorist.
Trump added that he wants to meet with Erdogan soon, and warned Turkey to protect minorities and all religious groups, or the United States will reimpose the sanctions.
Tuesday, Iraqi denied the U.S. military permission to stage patrolling operations from Iraq — which the Pentagon had said was the plan.