US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday a ceasefire in northern Syria is now permanent and he lifted sanctions on Turkey as a result, rejecting criticism of his decision to pull out US troops and allow Kurdish allies to come under attack.
In a White House speech that formalized ceding of US and Kurdish control in northern Syria to Turkey and Russia, Trump insisted that Kurdish factions who had fought alongside US troops were happy.
The president, whose Syria policy has come under withering criticism from his own Republican party, said he'd just spoken with the Kurdish commander in the country, Mazloum Abdi, and he was "extremely thankful."
Trump’s abrupt decision early this month to withdraw US troops out of northeastern Syria cleared the way for a Turkish invasion.
Trump touted a "major breakthrough," referring to a ceasefire that allowed Turkish troops to occupy a swath of northern Syria mostly unopposed, with US troops and Kurdish fighters abandoning their previous strongholds.
Ankara ordered the invasion of the Syrian territory on October 9 because it said it wanted to create a security cordon free of Kurdish armed groups that it considers to be terrorists, linked to Kurdish rebels inside Turkey.
The long-planned operation started only after Trump announced the exit of a small, but politically significant US military force which had until then been closely allied with the Kurds in a joint fight against ISIS in Syria.
Trump said he did not want the US troops caught in the middle of a Turkish-Kurdish fight.
Accused of betraying the Kurds by both Republicans and Democrats, Trump imposed sanctions on Turkey on October 14 and sent a delegation to persuade Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to order a brief ceasefire, allowing the Kurds to withdraw.
In a tweet from a spokesman on Wednesday, Mazloum thanked Trump "for his tireless efforts that stopped the brutal Turkish attack."
As US troops and the Kurds exited areas near Turkey's border, Turkish troops and Russian troops moved in.
The first Russian patrol in northern Syria got underway on Wednesday, the defense ministry in Moscow announced.
Trump insisted this power shift is a win for Washington and that he is fulfilling a campaign promise by washing his hands of "ancient sectarian and tribal conflicts."
Trump said there was no risk that the turmoil in the area could lead to a reconstitution of ISIS, which has lost its once sizeable territories and has thousands of members and their relatives kept in camps controlled by the Kurds.
With concerns that the Kurds may no longer be able to monitor the ISIS prisoners, Trump said he expects Turkey to "abide by its commitment" to act as a "back-up to the Kurds."
"Should something happen, Turkey is there to grab them," he said.