Trump throws Kurds under the bus, once again; lifts Turkey sanctions and praises Erdogan

The dramatic turnaround comes hours after US special envoy to Syria said the Turkish forces likely committed war crimes against the Kurds.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Reuters

US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was lifting all economic sanctions imposed on barely more than a week ago. The dramatic turnaround happened hours after US special envoy to Syria said Turkey's offensive in northern Syria was a "tragedy" and that Turkish forces likely committed war crimes.

Trump said he was lifting sanctions as Turkey agreed to halt attack on the Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria. He also praised Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and invited him to Washington. The Trump u-turn means US will not return to its role in Syria and that the Kurds will have to fend for themselves in the face of Turkish incursions.

"... People are saying, wow, what a great outcome ... we've done a good job, we've saved a lot of lives," he said about the sanctions, but added, however, that America was now moving away from the conflict-torn region. "Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand ... and we'll be deciding what to do with it in the future," he said.

Earlier Jim Jeffrey, the US special envoy for Syria and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, said: "We've seen several incidents which we consider war crimes ... The Turkish incursion into northeast Syria is a tragedy. It was long-standing US government policy in two administrations to keep that from happening and we were clearly not successful."

Trump imposed sanctions on Nato ally Turkey on October 14 after Ankara's renewed offensive against Kurds in northern Syria put civilians at risk. Washington also accused Turkey of causing the release of dangerous Islamic State terrorists from the region. "I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey's economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path," President Donald Trump said, in a dramatic turnaround. Trump was widely criticised at home for leaving the Kurds in northeastern Syria at the mercy of Turkey.

Kurdish problem

Turkey is opposed to the Kurdish consolidation in the north and east of Syria as it has its own sizeable Kurdish minority. Besides Turkey, countries like Syria, Iraq and Iran too have large Kurdish minorities. The problem is complex as the Kurdish minorities in all these countries are seeking varying degrees of autonomy.

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wants to crush the Kurds in Syria as he sees it as a branch of the The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which represents nearly 20 percent of Kurds inside Turkey. The PKK had taken up arms against Ankara in the 1980s, triggering a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people so far.

The latest Trump turnaround comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said that the US would even consider military option against Turkey. After the Turkish offensive in the Syrian border zones dominated by Kurds left more than 100 civilians dead, Pompeo said President Donald Trump is prepared to take military action against Turkey. "We prefer peace to war ... But in the event that kinetic action or military action is needed, you should know that President Trump is fully prepared to undertake that action," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNBC last week.