Donald Trump lavished praise Thursday on his “friend” and “hell of a leader” Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the Turkish president launched an incursion into northeast Syria. Trump said the Turks needed to have a swath of Syria “cleaned out” after battling with Syrian Kurds there.
The deal was reached just over a week after Trump agreed in a phone call with Erdogan to pull out U.S. troops in Syria to cede the battlefield to the Turks, who have targeted America’s Kurdish allies. Pence has termed the new deal a “ceasefire,” but the Turkish foreign minister called it a “pause,” emphasizing: “This is not a ceasefire,” and said that Turkish troops would not withdraw.
Turkey will pause its invasion for 120 hours to allow the Kurds to withdraw from a zone of the border region. But the agreement also allows Turkey to take over a significant swath of Syria and calls on Syrian Kurdish forces, known as the YPG, to surrender their heavy weapons. The deal would suspend U.S. economic sanctions against Turkey.
“For many, many years, Turkey, in all fairness, they’ve had a legitimate problem” with northeast Syria, where the Kurds are settled, Trump said in remarks in Texas ahead of his rally in Dallas. “They had terrorists, they had a lot of people in there they couldn’t have …. and they had to have it cleaned out.” (See the video above.)
The Kurds have battled ISIS for years alongside U.S. troops — and have fought against Turkey for centuries over disputed territory. Now that the ethnic group is under siege, the destabilization has “created a perfect situation for ISIS to capitalize on,” Rita Katz, executive director of the SITE Intelligence Group, a private firm that tracks online extremist activity, told The Washington Post.
Trump said in Texas: “I want to thank Turkey” for agreeing to the pause in fighting — even though it was Turkey that launched the invasion. “We’ve gotten everything we’ve ever dreamed of,” Trump added. He said the Kurds are “incredibly happy” with the “solution.”
Trump said the “ceasefire” was something that Turkey had been after for 10 years.
“You would have lost millions and millions of lives. They couldn’t get it without a little ‘rough love,’ as I called it ... they needed a little bit of that at the beginning,” Trump said. “And then everybody said, ‘Wow, this is tougher than we thought.’ When those guns start shooting, they tend to do things.”
Trump called it a “great day for the United States. It’s a great day for Turkey ... The Kurds were great. Great day for the Kurds. It’s really a great day for civilization.”
On Wednesday Trump said that the Kurdish allies were “no angels” and said that in some cases they represent a threat more dangerous than ISIS, whom the Kurds fought against with American troops in Syria. He stated that Turkey’s invasion of Syria “has nothing to do with us.”
The House on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly, 354 to 60, to denounce the U.S. troop withdrawal in Syria; 129 Republicans joined all the Democrats in the vote on the resolution.