U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday afternoon announced a ceasefire agreement with Turkey for northern Syria, just over a week after President Donald Trump opened the door to Turkish forces invading the area and slaughtering the Kurdish population there.
"One thing we can count on is that the Kurds won't trust the U.S. going forward and why should they?"
—Rukmini Callimachi, The New York Times
The deal hinges on Kurds with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) leaving a 20-mile buffer zone between Turkey and Syria within five days, a prerequisite that Jewish Community Action Minnesota communications director Isaiah Breen condemned as "ethnic cleansing."
The president, in comments to reporters on Turkey Thursday, used similar language, saying of the border that Turkey "had to have it cleaned out."
The president also said that the ceasefire was helpful because Turkey was now "not going to have to kill millions of people."
Referring to Kurds living along Turkish border in Syria, Trump says of Turkey, "they had to have it cleaned out." pic.twitter.com/W8J7IFctO3— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 17, 2019
The agreement, according to The New York Times, puts the Kurds in a tough spot:
Kurdish fighters now have 120 hours to leave a safe zone reaching about 20 miles south of Turkey’s border with Syria, Mr. Pence said. He said that while the Trump administration did not agree with Mr. Erdogan’s invasion, American officials also understood Turkey's concerns about the Kurdish fighters, whom they regard as part of a terror group.
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Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, launched his attack on the Kurds on October 9, days after Trump withdrew U.S. troops from the area on October 6. The Turkish leader received a letter from Trump warning against the action; Erdoğan reportedly threw the letter in the trash and attacked the area anyway.
Even with the ceasefire, Axios reported, the damage done by the assault is incalculable:
Significant harm, however, has already been done. Hundreds of Kurds have been killed, thousands have been displaced, and at least 1,000 ISIS prisoners and supporters have escaped prison camps since Trump's decision to move U.S. troops out of northern Syria.
Thursday's announcement comes with a lifting of sanctions put on Turkey by the U.S. and a promise not to add any more, Pence told reporters.
But critics of the deal wondered how the ceasefire would work in practice and if the U.S. and Turkey had consulted the SDF on the Kurdish role in the agreement.
"Waiting for the official SDF statement, but from the conversations I've just had with sources in Syria, I'm wondering if the deal being announced by Pence, etc. even consulted the SDF?" tweeted New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi. "One thing we can count on is that the Kurds won't trust the U.S. going forward and why should they?"