WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump spoke from the White House Wednesday morning on what he's calling the "big success" along the Turkey-Syria border, announcing the U.S. will be lifting its sanctions against Ankara following a lasting cease-fire reached in the war-torn country.
Trump claimed that the U.S. and only the U.S. is responsible for the cease-fire, but added that it's time to "let someone else fight over this long blood-stained sand." He added that he hopes the cease-fire will be "permanent", but that in "that part of the world," meaning the Middle East, it is difficult to predict the future.
"Countless lives are now being saved", Trump said. "We reached this outcome without spilling one drop of American blood."
The U.S. president added that a "small number" of American soldiers will remain in Syria, in areas "where they have oil." Trump said that Kurdish military leaders have assured him that ISIS prisoners who escaped custody - a small number, he claims to have been told - have largely been recaptured, and added claimed his policy in Syria saved the lives of "many, many Kurds."
Kurdish allies who helped the United States in its war against Islamic State militants felt abandoned by Trump, whose policy created an opening that Russia has capitalized on by moving forces into the area. The fate of Islamic State militants in Syrian Kurdish prisons also remained up in the air.
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In his statement, Trump commented on the issue, saying: "We defeated and took over 100 percent of the ISIS caliphate. Everybody said that was going to be an impossible thing to do. I did it, and I did it quickly because we have a great military now.
A senior Trump administration official, briefing reporters on a conference call, said while most ISIS fighters remained under lock and key, it appeared that a small number had escaped from prisons. Turkey was responsible for rounding them up, he said.
"We're keeping a very close eye on the situation with the ISIS fighters," the official 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 cease-fire permanent," Trump said. "However, you would also define the word permanent in that part of the world as somewhat questionable. We all understand that."
Trump said he had instructed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to lift sanctions imposed on Turkey in response to its moves against the Kurds in Syria's northeast "unless something happens that we are not happy with."
"How many Americans must die in the Middle East in the midst of these ancient sectarian and tribal conflicts?" he said. "I am committed to pursuing a different course, one that leads to victory for America."
Since Turkey invaded northern Syria, several hundred ISIS fighters have escaped from prison, U.S. troops have withdrawn from the area and America has lost influence in the region.
Turkey and Russia reached an agreement Tuesday that would transform the map of northeast Syria, installing their forces along the border and filling the void left by the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops.