Trump hails Syria ceasefire 'tremendous success' amid criticism, clashes

Trump hails Syria ceasefire a 'tremendous success' amid ongoing clashes, accusations of abandoning Kurdish allies
4 min read
19 October, 2019
President Donald Trump has insisted there is broad agreement on his Syria policy amid international and domestic criticism of his handling of the conflict.
US President Donald Trump has been accused of abandoning Washington's Kurdish allies [Getty]

US President Donald Trump has hailed the shaky ceasefire between Kurdish forces and Turkey as a "tremendous success" amid criticism that his Syria withdrawal is damaging US credibility, betraying Kurdish allies and opening the door for an Islamic State group resurgence.

The president made the remarks on Friday amid continued fighting between Kurdish forces and Turkey.

"We've had tremendous success I think over the last couple of days," Trump declared. 

"We've taken control of the oil in the Middle East" - a claim that seemed disconnected from any known development there.

The president made the assertion twice on Friday, but other US officials were unable to explain what he meant.

'Success'

Calling his Syria approach "a little bit unconventional," the president contended that all sides, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Syrian Kurdish fighters, agree that the US-brokered ceasefire was the right step.

"There is good will on both sides & a really good chance for success," he wrote on Twitter.

Erdogan, meanwhile, told reporters in Istanbul that Turkish forces would resume their offensive in four days unless Kurdish-led fighters withdraw "without exception" from a so-called safe zone 20 miles (30 kilometers) deep in Syria running the entire 260-mile (440-kilometer) length of the border with Turkey.

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There was no sign of any pullout by the Kurdish-led forces, who accused Turkey of violating the ceasefire.

They also said the accord covers a much smaller section of the border. And some fighters have vowed not to withdraw at all, dismissing the deal as a betrayal by the US, who were their allies against IS.

Peace on the horizon?

Despite copnflicting statements from the Ankara and the Kurdish forces, as well as ongoing clashes, Trump insisted peace was at hand.

"There is a cease-fire or a pause or whatever you want to call it," he said. "There was some sniper fire this morning," as well as mortar fire, but that was quickly halted and the area had returned to a "full pause," he said.

Trump also asserted that some European nations are now willing to take responsibility for detained IS fighters who are from their countries.

"Anyway, big progress being made!!!!" he exclaimed on Twitter.

Trump said nothing further about the European nations he now contends have agreed to take some of the IS fighters, a demand he has repeated often. No European government announced an intent to take control of IS prisoners.

Speaking in Brussels after briefing NATO ambassadors on the Syria situation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, "We've seen comments today from a number of countries who said they may well be prepared to take back these fighters." He, too, identified no such countries.

'Grave mistake'

Trump has been widely criticised for turning his back on the Kurds, who have taken heavy casualties as partners with the US since 2016. Even some Republicans are taking aim.

"Withdrawing US forces from Syria is a grave strategic mistake. It will leave the American people and homeland less safe, embolden our enemies, and weaken important alliances," Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote on Friday in a Washington Post opinion column.

Read more: What will be the future of the Syrian Democratic Forces?

Erdogan said on Friday he and Trump share "love and respect," but he also left little doubt that he was offended by an October 9 letter from Trump telling him, "Don't be a fool!"

Erdogan told reporters Trump's words were not compatible with "political and diplomatic courtesy" and would not be forgotten. He said he would "do what's necessary" about the letter "when the time comes." He did not elaborate.

While US officials have insisted that Trump did not authorise Turkey's invasion, the ceasefire codifies nearly all of Turkey's stated goals in the conflict.

In an unusual take on the conflict, Trump compared the situation to a brawl between children that simply needed to be fought out for a while.

"Sometimes you have to let them fight, like two kids in a lot, you got to let them fight and then you pull them apart," Trump said at a campaign rally on Friday in an attempt to explain his Syria policy.

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