President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced a permanent cease-fire along the Turkey-Syria border and hailed his recent, controversial military moves in the region as an unequivocal victory for America.
He also blasted past American military intervention in the Middle East as making the region “less safe, less stable and less secure than before” and attacked his critics as overtaxing U.S. service members and overlooking more immediate threats like unchecked immigration from war-torn foreign countries.
“American forces defeated 100 percent of the ISIS caliphate during the last two years,” Trump said at a White House press conference. “We thank the Syrian Democratic Forces for their sacrifices in this effort. Now, Turkey, Syria, and others in the region must work to ensure that ISIS does not regain any territory. It's their neighborhood, they have to maintain it.”
Rep. Mac Thornberry believes America's adversaries will use the uncertainty in the Middle East to probe for U.S. military weaknesses.
“Countless lives are now being saved as a result of our negotiations with Turkey, an outcome reached without spilling one drop of American blood. No injuries, nobody shot, nobody killed.”
In response to the new cease-fire agreement — which Turkish officials were scheduled to confirm later today — Trump also announced plans to lift all sanctions leveled against Turkey for their recent military operations.
Earlier this month, Trump pulled back U.S. special operations forces working alongside Kurdish fighters in northern Syria amid reports that Turkish military forces were preparing an assault on border towns.
Defense Department leaders have scrambled to position troops in the region since then, including temporarily stationing hundreds of service members in Iraq with the promise they will not remain there for long.
Trump announced Wednesday that a small number of U.S. troops will remain the disputed border areas to help secure oil fields there, preventing terrorist groups from seizing control of them.
But he also declared an effective end to significant American military involvement in the region, saying that it was time to “let someone else fight over this long bloodstained sand.”
With the Islamic State threat gone, Trump said, Defense Department operations in the region also need to end. He has framed fighting between Turkish, Kurdish and Syrian fighters as a local conflict outside U.S. national security interests, even as lawmakers from his own party and several former military leaders have warned that the conflict could allow terrorist cells to coalesce.
(Those critics) are the ones that got us into the Middle East mess, but never had the vision or the courage to get us out,” Trump said. “They just talk. How many Americans must die in the Middle East, in the midst of these ancient sectarian and tribal conflicts?
“After all of the precious blood and treasure America has poured into the deserts of the Middle East, I am committed to pursuing a different course, one that leads to victory for America.”
The future of the five-year fight against Islamic State militants is unclear, along with the entire strategy underpinning the U.S. troop presence in the U.S. Central Command region.
Trump did not specify how many U.S. troops will be left in Syria or Iraq as part of his new plan.
The oil fields referenced by Trump were the scene of a deadly exchange between U.S. forces and Russian mercenaries in February 2018. American troops embedded with Syrian Democratic Forces called in air support to counter an assault by Russian mercenaries and pro-Syrian regime forces in Deir ez-Zor province, Syria. Nearly 200 enemy fighters were killed in the fight.
On Monday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters that troops there are still working alongside the SDF fighters to “deny access to those oil fields by ISIS and others who may benefit from revenues that could be earned.”
Reporter Shawn Snow contributed to this story.