New York, Oct 24 : Declaring “let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand,” US President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced that there will be a “permanent ceasefire” in Northern Syria in the power vacuum left by the withdrawal of US troops.
He said he was lifting the sanctions he had imposed on Turkey after it attacked Washington’s erstwhile allies, the Kurds, in the area, because of the ceasefire agreement.
“Early this morning, the government of Turkey informed my administration that they would be stopping combat and their offensive in Syria, and make the ceasefire permanent, and it will indeed be permanent,” Trump announced at the White House with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by his side.
At the same time, Trump expressed scepticism about the ceasefire, saying the definition of “permanent” in that part of the world was somewhat “questionable”.
Trump has been under a barrage of criticism from his party’s leaders as well as from Democrats and military experts for his decision to withdraw US troops from the area, leaving the Kurds vulnerable to Turkish attacks and risking the return of the Islamic State (IS) terrorists.
The small US military presence in the area had provided the Kurds a shield against Turkish attacks but with them pulling out, Turkey moved in against their long time foe, setting off a bloody fighting and creating a refugee crisis.
Trump had announced the abrupt troop pullout on October 12 as a measure to fulfil his election pledge of bringing US troops back and ending foreign military entanglements.
Last week, Pompeo and Pence had rushed to Ankara to stop the attacks and had arranged a five-day ceasefire, which Trump now says will be permanent.
A buffer zone was also created along some parts of the Turkey-Syria border.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is from Trump’s party, has been one of the strongest critics of Trump’s decision to withdraw troops and on Tuesday introduced a resolution critical of the move and asking Trump to withdraw a White House invitation to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unless there was a ceasefire.
The Kurds feel betrayed after having sacrificed more than 11,000 people in the fight against IS and their ire was reflected in TV images of Kurds pelting potatoes at the US forces moving out to Iraq.
Trump claimed that the “permanent ceasefire was a victory for him deserving of congratulations, reminiscent of former President George W Bush declaring “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq only to have the US troops still mired there.
What irks many US leaders is that it strengthens the position of Russia that backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the region as the US is seen diminishing its presence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan have agreed to jointly enforce the ceasefire.
Now it may be up to the Russians to ensure that the ceasefire holds on the ground.
Trump, who has griped about the burdens on the US in policing the world, said, “Others have come out to help and we welcomed them to do so.”
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed at @arulouis)