A temporary ceasefire touted by President Trump and Vice President Pence has already been broken by Turkey, Trump said on Friday.
On Thursday, Turkey agreed to “pause” its operations in northern Syria for 120 hours to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area as Turkey seeks to control a 20-mile buffer zone along its southern border.
“All military operations will be paused, and Operation Peace Spring will be halted entirely on completion of the withdrawal,” Pence said Thursday, after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara. “This also includes an agreement by Turkey to engage in no military action against the community of Kobani,” he added, referring to a Kurdish-held city near the border.
Trump praised himself for seeing the deal through after he himself gave Turkey the green light to invade the region and attack America’s Kurdish allies, who helped defeat ISIS.
“This deal could NEVER have been made 3 days ago. There needed to be some ‘tough’ love in order to get it done,” Trump tweeted. He added, “This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path. People have been trying to make this ‘Deal’ for many years. Millions of lives will be saved. Congratulations to ALL!”
Hours later, shelling and gunfire erupted in northern Syria, The New York Times reported. Kurdish leaders told the Times that Turkish troops and their proxies had violated the terms of the truce, though Erdogan denied any fighting in the area.
But the gunfire in Syria could be heard by journalists across the border in Turkey, the Times reported.
Trump and the White House admitted that there was still fighting going on despite the truce agreement.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News that such a conflict would “take time” to wind down even though the ceasefire is only due to last 120 hours.
Trump also acknowledged the fighting, but insisted that Erdogan had it under control.
After saying he spoke with Erdogan, Trump wrote that “he told me there was minor sniper and mortar fire that was quickly eliminated.”
“He very much wants the ceasefire, or pause, to work,” Trump said.
But the Times reports that fighting continued in northern Syria border towns on Friday afternoon, nearly hitting aid workers who were trying to reach civilians. Smoke was seen rising from other parts of the region. Turkish forces also blocked an international aid convoy from reaching people wounded in the fighting.
Despite Trump’s assurances, Turkey dismissed the effects of U.S. pressure and disputed that the agreement made on Thursday was even a ceasefire.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a press conference that the agreement is “not a ceasefire.”
“We will pause the operation for 120 hours in order for the terrorists to leave,” Cavusoglu said, referring to the Kurds. “We will only stop the operation if our conditions are met.”
Earlier, Trump had released a bizarre letter that he sent to Erdogan a week ago, urging him not to be a “tough guy” or a “fool.” Erdogan’s office told the BBC that the Turkish president “thoroughly rejected” the letter and threw it in a trash bin.
Erdogan raised the letter himself on Friday, in terms that probably didn’t gratify Trump.
“President Trump’s letter, which did not go hand in hand with political and diplomatic courtesy, has appeared in the media,” Erdogan said at a news conference. “Of course we haven’t forgotten it. It would not be right for us to forget it.”
Erdogan hinted at possible retaliation over the letter. “For our relationship, there’s no point to dwell on this letter,” he told reporters. “This is not a priority for us, but when the time comes, we would like it to be known that we will take the necessary steps.”