Car Bomb Kills 19 In Northern Syria

This file photo shows residents staring at the remains of a car that exploded in the town of Suluk in Syria’s Turkish-controlled Tal Abyad border region on November 10, 2019.
Zein Al RIFAI / AFP

 

A car bomb killed 19 people, 13 of them civilians, in the Turkish-controlled town of Al-Bab in northern Syria on Saturday, a war monitor said.

The bomb, which struck a bus and taxi station in the town, also wounded 33 people, some of them seriously, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Turkey and its Syrian proxies control several pockets of territory on the Syrian side of the border as a result of successive incursions in 2016-17, 2018 and 2019.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing but the Observatory said there had been persistent security incidents in the town since its capture by Turkish troops from the Islamic State group in February 2017.

The town, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) northeast of Syria’s second city Aleppo, was one of the westernmost strongholds of the jihadists’ self-styled “caliphate” which was finally eradicated by US-backed Kurdish forces in eastern Syria in March.

Turkey blamed the car bombing on the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) against whom it launched a new invasion further east last month.

Kurdish fighters “continue to target innocent civilians using the same methods as Daesh,” the defence ministry said on its official Twitter account using another acronym for IS.

There was no immediate reaction from the YPG, seen by Ankara as a “terrorist offshoot” of the Kurdistan Workers Party which has fought an insurgency inside Turkey for the past 35 years.

The latest Turkish invasion, which was aimed at creating a buffer zone the whole length of the border, sparked an outcry in the West because of the key role the YPG played in the US-led campaign against IS.

It paused after Turkey struck a truce deal with Russia, the main supporter of the Syrian government, to jointly patrol the border area and oversee the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters from a new Turkish-controlled pocket between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain.

 

AFP

Trump Ignores Impeachment To Host Turkey’s Erdogan

 

The two leaders were to hold several hours of meetings, including lunch, before giving a joint news conference.

While Congress listened to evidence against Trump from two diplomats in the impeachment inquiry, the US president met Erdogan on the White House’s South Lawn, together with a military honor guard, before heading straight to the Oval Office.

In the run-up to Erdogan’s arrival, Trump did not tune into the nationally televised impeachment hearings, because he was “too busy,” he told reporters.

If Trump was ignoring the drama on Capitol Hill, he was also turning a deaf ear to opposition from many in Congress, including in his own Republican party, to rolling out the red carpet for Erdogan.

The US-Turkish relationship has been under severe strain following Erdogan’s ordering of an October offensive against US-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

Trump ordered US troops stationed in the border area to withdraw ahead of the Turkish invasion, while exhorting Erdogan in an extraordinarily undiplomatic letter to avoid too much bloodshed.

“Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” Trump wrote in the letter, which was reportedly thrown by Erdogan into the trash.

Despite the letter, Trump’s withdrawal of the US soldiers effectively gave fellow-NATO member Turkey a green light for what appears to be an extended occupation of a large swath of Syria.

This outraged many in Congress, which saw the move as an abandonment of the Kurds, who died in large numbers while fighting alongside US forces against Islamic State jihadists in the area.

The reshuffling of forces in the region was also criticized in Washington as a boon for Russian ambitions.

“Given this situation, we believe that now is a particularly inappropriate time for President Erdogan to visit the United States, and we urge you to rescind this invitation,” a bipartisan group of legislators wrote to Trump last week in a letter made public Monday.

Trump was defiant Wednesday, saying: “We have been friends for a long time.”

Russian missiles –
On top of the Syria mess, Turkey’s role in NATO is under question following Erdogan’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.

Washington has excluded Turkey from the F-35 stealth warplane program over the purchase, creating even more tension in the troubled Western alliance. Erdogan has responded by suggesting he could instead buy Russian warplanes as well.

A senior White House official, who asked not to be identified, acknowledged the high tension but said Trump wanted to find solutions.

“This is nearly a 70-year alliance. It has helped both of our countries through very, very dark times. We are not going to throw it away lightly if there is a way forward,” the official said.

Trump needs to avoid antagonizing the Republicans who will be voting on his fate in case of an impeachment trial.

But those legislators have little love for Erdogan and the feeling is likely mutual.

The House of Representatives showed its displeasure with Turkey in October by voting to recognize the mass destruction of the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

Modern-day Turkey continues to deny the accusation of genocide, saying Armenians were merely among the many other victims of World War I. The vote infuriated Erdogan.

– Protesters beaten up –
The State Department defended the invitation to Erdogan, saying the complex issues make face-to-face talks important.

“Don’t look at these things as rewards, they are the execution of diplomacy,” an official said.

But there will be tension to spare even beyond the Syrian Kurds and the S-400s.

Washington is angry over the long-term detention of Turkish citizens working for US consulates, while Ankara continues to push hard for the extradition of the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan claims engineered a failed 2016 coup.

Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney raised another point of contention: the ugly scenes during Erdogan’s last Washington visit, in 2017, when his bodyguards beat up protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence.

“The Erdogan regime’s use of violence against civilians anywhere is inhumane, uncivilized, and unacceptable,” she wrote in a letter demanding that the State Department bar any of the “thugs” involved from returning.

Turkey Begins Deporting Foreign Jihadists

PHOTO USED TO DEPICT THE STORY: A man who fought alongside Jihadists in Central Mali and that has now left his former group, poses in an undisclosed location, on July 7, 2019 where he lives in clandestinity. PHOTO: Marco LONGARI / AFP

 

Turkey deported three foreign jihadists on Monday, with more than 20 Europeans including French and Germans in the process of being expelled to their countries of origin. 

Turkey has criticised Western countries for refusing to repatriate their citizens who left to join the Islamic State group (IS) in Syria and Iraq, and stripping some of them of their citizenship.

Its interior ministry said it deported an American and a Dane on Monday, while Germany confirmed that one of its citizens had also been expelled.

However, there was confusion over the fate of the US citizen, with Greece saying that Turkey had attempted to deport him over their shared land border.

Greek police said they rejected the man and sent him back to Turkey. Images showed him temporarily trapped between the two borders early Monday.

A State Department official said that US authorities “are aware of reports of the detainment of a US citizen by Turkish authorities” but could not comment further because of privacy rules.

Turkey said seven more Germans would be deported on Thursday, while 11 French citizens, two Irish and at least two additional Germans were also being processed.

Danish authorities said their citizen was arrested upon arrival in Copenhagen on Monday, adding that he had previously been sentenced to four years in prison in Turkey.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said last week that Turkey had nearly 1,200 foreign members of IS in custody, and had captured 287 during its recent operation in northern Syria.

It was not clear whether those being deported were captured in Syria or Turkey.

“There is no need to try to escape from it, we will send them back to you. Deal with them how you want,” Soylu said on Friday.

‘Turkey not hotel’ for IS

A French official told AFP that the French nationals being expelled were mostly women.

Some had been in Turkey for a long time, while others arrived recently, the official added, without giving further details.

These 11 will be tried, the official said, adding that discussions were under way to determine whether their arrival will be handled by civil or military airport authorities.

A French foreign ministry source told AFP at the weekend that a number of jihadist suspects had been quietly repatriated under a 2014 agreement with Turkey, and that the current deportations were nothing new.

“Jihadists and their families are regularly sent back to France and arrested as they leave the airplane. Most of the time it is done secretly. The news is not published, or released much later,” the source said.

Meanwhile, a Dutch court ruled on Monday that the Netherlands should repatriate the children of women who joined IS, though the mothers themselves need not be brought back.

The ruling was a response to 23 Dutch women being held in detention camps in Syria, calling for their return along with their 56 children.

A German foreign ministry official confirmed the legal proceedings involving the 10 German nationals in Turkey, saying they included three men, five women (at least two who lived in Syria) and two children.

Germany’s interior ministry said “it did not wish to oppose the return of German citizens” and that authorities were still verifying the identities and the reasons for their repatriation.

Turkey has lately increased pressure on Europe to take responsibility for the problem.

“Turkey is not a hotel for Daesh members,” Soylu said last week, using another acronym for IS.

The return of jihadists follows Turkey’s offensive last month in northern Syria against Kurdish militants who were holding thousands of IS fighters and their families.

Turkey said it would take control of captured jihadists in areas that it seized from Kurdish groups, but demanded greater assistance from Europe.

It remains unclear, however, whether Turkey will be able to repatriate those who have lost their citizenship.

Although the 1961 New York Convention made it illegal to leave people stateless, several countries, including Britain and France, have not ratified it, and recent cases have triggered prolonged legal battles.

Britain alone has stripped more than 100 people of their citizenship for allegedly joining jihadist groups abroad.

AFP

Turkish Students, Lecturer On Trial For Pride March

People arrive at the Ankara’s courthouse on November 12, 2019, to attend the trial of eighteen students and an academic allegedly involved in an “illegal” banned LGBTI pride event at the campus university, in Ankara. Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

 

Eighteen Turkish students and a lecturer went on trial on Tuesday for taking part in a banned LGBTI Pride event at an Ankara university.

The defendants face up to three years in prison if convicted of “unlawful assembly and protest” and “refusing to disperse” in a trial deemed “farcical” by rights groups.

One of the 18 students also faces up to two years for insulting a police officer with hand gestures.

Homosexuality has been legal throughout modern Turkey’s history, but LGBTI individuals face regular harassment and abuse.

The pride event at the prestigious Middle East Technical University has taken place every May since 2011.

But university bosses banned this year’s event and police used pepper spray, plastic bullets and tear gas to break it up.

Diplomats from several European embassies, including Denmark and Sweden, attended the packed hearing.

Lawyers and rights groups urged the court to immediately acquit the defendants.

“The ban of the Pride march lacks legal grounds, and these brave students and others who defied it had their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly violated,” Sara Hall of Amnesty International said in a statement.

Police did not allow supporters to read a statement outside the courthouse.

Defendant Melike Irem Balkan told the court there were “no legal grounds” for banning the event, noting that it has taken place “peacefully” in previous years.

The Ankara governor’s office banned all LGBTI events in November 2017, saying they could “provoke reactions” in society, but the ruling was overturned by a court in the capital in April.

LGBTI events have faced difficulties since the Islamic-rooted government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2003.

Authorities in Istanbul have banned the city’s Pride march for the past five years, and used tear gas to break up this June’s event.

ILGA-Europe, an umbrella organisation for LGBTI groups, called for “a thorough and impartial investigation into the excessive use of force” against the Pride marchers.

It places Turkey in the bottom three European countries, alongside Armenia and Azerbaijan, for equality laws and policies.

Car Bomb Kills Eight, Injures 20 In Syria

Residents stare at the remains of a car that exploded in the town of Suluk in Syria’s Turkish-controlled Tal Abyad border region on November 10, 2019, which Ankara said killed at least eight people and wounded more than 20.
Zein Al RIFAI / AFP

 

A car bomb in Syria killed eight people and wounded more than 20 on Sunday in the sector in the north of the country currently under Turkey’s control, Ankara said.

“Eight civilians lost their lives and more than 20 were wounded in an attack by a booby-trapped vehicle,” a defence ministry statement said.

The statement blamed the attack on the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, viewed by Ankara as an offshoot of the Kurdish PKK, which has fought an insurgency inside Turkey for the past 35 years.

But the force was until recently backed by Washington in the US fight against jihadist fighters in Syria.

READ ALSO: 14 Dead As Cyclone Bulbul Smashes Into India, Bangladesh Coasts

The attack happened in Suluk, a village about 20 kilometres (12 miles) southeast of the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad, according to Britain-based war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory gave a lower death toll, saying five people were killed and 13 wounded, with both civilians and fighters among the dead. It did not say who carried out the attack.

Turkish forces and their proxies — former Syrian rebels hired as a ground force by Ankara — launched a deadly offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria on October 9.

They acted days after US President Donald Trump ordered his troops to withdraw in a move that observers condemned as a betrayal of their Kurdish partners in the war against the Islamic State group in Syria.

The Turkish push was aimed at seizing a strip of land roughly 30 kilometres deep along the 440-kilometre border between the two countries.

Ankara says it wants to establish a “safe zone” there in which to resettle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it hosts on its soil.

The invasion has displaced tens of thousands and left dozens of civilians dead, forcing Kurdish forces to retreat from some key towns.

AFP

UN Report Finds Jordan, Turkey, UAE Violated Libya Arms Embargo

 

Jordan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have regularly violated the UN arms embargo imposed on Libya since 2011, according to a confidential report by UN experts seen Thursday by AFP.

The three countries “routinely and sometimes blatantly supplied weapons with little effort to disguise the source,” a summary of a year-long study by the UN experts said.

According to diplomats, Jordan was accused of having trained troops of Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman in eastern Libya who launched an offensive in April in a bid to seize Tripoli.

The United Arab Emirates, another Haftar backer, is suspected of using attack aircraft on behalf of his forces.

READ ALSO: Baghdadi’s Wife Reveals IS Group Secrets After Capture

The UAE is suspected of involvement in a July 2 bombing of a detention center for migrants in a Tripoli suburb which left around 50 people dead.

The report does not definitively apportion blame for the attack but notes that the UAE is equipped with both US-made F-16s and French Mirage 2000-9s.

Turkey, which openly supports the government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, is accused of supplying his forces with military material ranging from armored vehicles to drones.

“Both parties to the conflict received weapons and military equipment, technical support and non-Libyan fighters in non-compliance with the sanctions measures related to arms,” said the experts’ report, delivered to members of the UN Security Council on October 29.

“The panel also identified the presence of Chadian and Sudanese armed groups in support of forces affiliated” with Sarraj and Haftar, the report said, although they have had only a limited impact.

“Although the military capability of both parties was apparently enhanced, in reality the impact of the foreign armed groups to outcomes in the conflict was limited,” it said.

– ‘New phase of instability’ –
The 85-page document and a more than 300-page annex includes pictures, maps and copies of ship manifests of cargos delivered to Libya by sea.

The report is expected to be the subject of debate by the Security Council’s 15 members at the end of the month in the sanctions committee responsible for Libya. It is then expected to be approved for public release, probably in December.

The experts said they were awaiting answers to their questions from several UN member states.

“The panel identified multiple acts that posed a threat to the security, peace and stability of Libya,” they said.

Since Haftar’s offensive in April, a “new phase of instability, combined with the interests of several states and non state actors in the outcome, amplified the existing proxy conflict that took shape post-2011,” they said.

“Military operations have been dominated by the use of precision-guided munitions from unmanned combat aerial vehicles, which to a degree has limited the collateral damage normally expected from such a conflict,” they said.

The use of drones “has been massive by both sides,” a diplomat said, confirming accusations leveled previously by the UN envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame.

Another diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the report does not mention the presence of Russian mercenaries in Libya.

Several hundred have been deployed in Libyan territory in recent months, taking part in combat in support of Haftar’s forces, US media reported earlier this week, a charge denied by Moscow.

The report also said that human trafficking and smuggling of migrants, although reduced considerably, “continues to finance networks that contribute to instability.”

The panel said there had been attempts by the National Oil Corporation in the east of the country to illicitly export crude oil.

“Refined petroleum products continue to be diverted by sea and overland, albeit at a lower level than in previous years,” it said.

Baghdadi’s Wife Reveals Islamic State Group Secrets After Capture

This handout undated picture released by the press service of the Turkish Government shows Asma Fawzi Muhammad Al-Qubaysi, believed to be the first wife of slain Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, captured in the Turkish border city of Hatay by Turkish security officials. HANDOUT / TURKISH GOVERNMENT / AFP

The wife of slain Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi revealed “a lot of information” about the jihadist group’s “inner workings” after she was captured last year, a Turkish official said.

The official said that Baghdadi’s spouse identified herself as Rania Mahmoud but was in fact Asma Fawzi Muhammad Al-Qubaysi.

She was said to be the “first wife” of the IS leader, who was killed in a US special forces raid in Syria last month.

The woman was arrested on June 2, 2018 in the province of Hatay, near the Syrian border, along with 10 others, including Baghdadi’s daughter, who identified herself as Leila Jabeer.

The official said the family links were confirmed using a DNA sample of Baghdadi provided by Iraqi authorities.

“We discovered (the wife’s) real identity pretty quickly. At that point, she volunteered a lot of information about Baghdadi and the inner workings of ISIS,” the official said.

“We were able to confirm a lot of things that we already knew. We also obtained new information that led to a series of arrests elsewhere.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed for the first time on Wednesday that she had been detained.

“We caught his wife — I say this today for the first time — but we didn’t make a big fuss about it,” Erdogan told a gathering of students in Ankara.

He confirmed that Turkey had also captured Baghdadi’s sister and brother-in-law.

Erdogan took a swipe at the United States for making a big deal of Baghdadi’s killing, saying: “They started a very big communication operation.”

The IS leader was killed in a US special forces raid carried out with the help of Kurdish fighters in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, just across the border from Turkey.

According to the US account, Baghdadi ran into a dead-end tunnel in his hideout and detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and two children.

The raid came in the wake of a Turkish military offensive against the Kurdish militants, who have been a close ally of the West in the fight against IS, but are viewed as terrorists by Ankara.

AFP

Turkey Has Captured Sister Of Slained Islamic State Leader – Official

Photo combination of the chief of the Islamic State group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and handout picture taken and released by the press service of the Turkish Government, showing Rasmiya Awad, believed to be the sister of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was captured in the northern Syrian town of Azaz by Turkish security officials, seen in an unknown location PIC 1: AL-FURQAN MEDIA / AFP PIC 2: HANDOUT / TURKISH GOVERNMENT / AFP

 

Turkish forces in northern Syria have detained a sister of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group who was killed in a US raid, a senior Turkish official said on Tuesday.

“Turkey has captured Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s sister” in a raid  near the town of Azaz, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

He named the woman as Rasmiya Awad, and said she was born in 1954.

The woman was accompanied by her husband, her daughter-in-law and five children.

“The three adults are being interrogated at this time”, the official said.

He added that the arrest could be “an intelligence gold mine.

“What she knows about ISIS can significantly expand our understanding of the group”, help us catch more members and “help Turkey to better protect itself and the rest of Europe from terrorists”, he said, using another acronym for IS.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the arrests.

“Turkish forces arrested the sister of Baghdadi last night in a camp in the suburbs of the city of Azaz”, said the head of the organisation, Rami Abdel Rahman.

“They arrested her, her husband, her daughter-in law, and her five grandchildren.”

He said they also detained four other Iraqis, but it was not immediately clear if they were linked to IS or not.

The town of Azaz is located in a region of northwestern Syria that has been under Turkish control since an offensive it staged in 2016.

US President Donald Trump announced on October 27 the death of Baghdadi in a US special forces raid in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, carried out in coordination with Kurdish militants.

Baghdadi had led IS since 2014 and was the world’s most wanted man.

The next day Turkey said that its intelligence services and military had had “intense” contact with their US counterparts on the night of the operation.

Long suspected of allowing the jihadists to cross its border to join Syria after the start of the conflict that has torn the country since 2011, Turkey, hit by several attacks committed by the IS, joined the anti-jihadist coalition in 2015.

But Ankara has been accused in recent weeks of weakening the fight against dispersed IS elements by launching an offensive on October 9 against the YPG Kurdish militia that had been spearheading the fight against the jihadist organisation.

AFP

Turkey Summons US Envoy Over ‘Armenian Genocide’ Recognition

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

 

Turkey on Wednesday summoned the US ambassador to Ankara over a resolution passed by the US House of Representatives officially recognising the “Armenian genocide”, officials at the Turkish foreign ministry said.

The US Ambassador to Ankara David Satterfield was summoned to the foreign ministry over “a resolution that lacks any historical or legal basis” and a bill that imposes sanctions over Turkey’s military operation in Syria, the officials said.

Turkey Rejects US Recognition Of ‘Armenian Genocide’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey on Wednesday rejected the US House of Representatives’ official recognition of the “Armenian Genocide”, warning it risks harming ties “at an extremely fragile time” for international and regional security.

“As a meaningless political step, its sole addressees are the Armenian lobby and anti Turkey groups,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“We believe that American friends of Turkey who support the continuation of the alliance and friendly relations will question this grave mistake and those who are responsible will be judged by the conscience of the American people,” it added.

18 People Captured In Syria, Says Turkey

 

Turkey has captured 18 people in Syria who said they were from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the defence ministry said Tuesday.

“Eighteen people who claimed to be regime elements were captured alive in the southeast of Ras al-Ain” a key border town, during reconnaissance activities, the ministry said.

Turkey was investigating in coordination with the Russian authorities, it added.

Turkey and Russia agreed last week that Syrian Kurdish fighters would be removed from areas along the Turkish-Syrian border.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, had assured him that Syrian Kurdish fighters would not be allowed to stay in Syria along the Turkish border wearing “regime clothes”.

A 150-hour deadline given for the pullout of the Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters expired at 1500 GMT Tuesday, and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Kurdish forces had withdrawn as planned.

Fahrettin Altun, the communications director at the presidency, said the joint patrols by Russia and Turkey would verify whether or not the fighters had retreated.

Ankara says the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in Syria is a terror group linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Kurdish insurgent group outlawed in Turkey.

AFP

Trump Lifts Sanctions On Turkey Over Syria Assault

US President Donald Trump speaks during the 9th Shale Insight Conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on October 23, 2019, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  AFP

 

President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced the lifting of US sanctions against Turkey and defended his abrupt pullout from Syria, saying “let someone else fight” over the “blood-stained” country.

In a White House speech that formalized ceding of US and Kurdish control in northern Syria to Turkey and Russia, Trump insisted that Kurdish guerrillas 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 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 signficant US military force which had until then been closely allied with the Kurds in a joint fight against Islamic State jihadists in Syria.

Trump said he didn’t 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 and jihadist groups on our people.”

As US troops and the Kurds exited areas near Turkey’s border, Turkish troops and Russian troops, who have propped up Syrian President Bashar Assad through his country’s multi-sided civil war, 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.”

“Let someone else fight over this long blood-stained sand,” he said.

 Islamic State escapees 

Trump said there was no risk that the turmoil in the area could lead to a reconstitution of Islamic State, 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 Islamic State 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.

He was speaking shortly after a US State Department official, James Jeffrey, testified in Congress that “over 100” Islamic State prisoners had escaped so far and “we do not know where they are.”

Trump said that a “small number” of US soldiers would remain nearby, but purely to guard oil facilities.

His central message was clear: that the United States has no business in Syria and that there was never any question of trying to stop NATO member Turkey from carrying out its invasion.

“We have spent $8 trillion on wars in the Middle East, never really wanting to win those wars,” Trump said.

“But after all that money was spent and all those lives lost, the young men and women gravely wounded, so many — the Middle East is less safe, less stable and less secure than before these conflicts began.”

However, the isolationist policy grates on many Republicans, whom he is depending upon to save him from a Democratic push to impeach and remove him from office over allegations that he abused his office.

Immediately after the speech, powerful Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the United States had to stay engaged.

Graham said he agreed “that America is not the policeman of the world.”

But he said that US air power must “continue to control the skies over Syria” and the military should “have a small –- but capable –- military partnership” with the Kurds to prevent Islamic State from reemerging.

AFP