President Donald Trump said Friday he had received assurances from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that military operations at the border between Turkey and Syria — which would violate an agreed-upon cease-fire — had stopped.
"Just spoke to President @RTErdogan of Turkey. He told me there was minor sniper and mortar fire that was quickly eliminated. He very much wants the ceasefire, or pause, to work. Likewise, the Kurds want it, and the ultimate solution, to happen," Trump wrote in a series of tweets Friday. "Too bad there wasn’t this thinking years ago. Instead, it was always held together with very weak bandaids, & in an artificial manner."
Later Friday, Trump, talking to reporters at the White House, called the Turkey-Syria situation "fragile" and hit back against critics of the decisions he's made regarding the region in recent days.
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"I have to watch in great interest as I see people talking about what we should be doing, and these are the same people that have been failing for the last 20 years, didn’t know what they were doing, especially when they went in and did what they did," Trump said.
Trump's tweets and subsequent comments came after gunfire, grenades and mortars had been heard in the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ayn Friday, despite a pause in fighting the United States drew up and Turkey agreed to Thursday night.
The agreement announced by Vice President Mike Pence in Ankara required Turkey to suspend its military operations in northeast Syria for five days to allow Kurdish forces to retreat from a designated safe zone.
But NBC News staff could see and hear mortars, grenades, machine-gun and rifle fire in Ras al-Ayn — although it remains unclear who was responsible. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — allies of the U.S. during the fight against the Islamic State militant group — claimed Friday that Turkish forces were not slowing down their assault.
At a news conference Friday, Erdogan had denied attacks were ongoing. "There is no question of clashes. This is all speculation, disinformation," he said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on Friday at a press conference in Brussels that although there were reports of activity at the Syrian border town, the cease-fire has not been violated. Pompeo also said that there is ongoing coordination to ensure that Turkey and Kurdish forces "take seriously the commitments that they made."
"Look, the cease-fire time period, the pause, commenced when we issued the statement yesterday evening," he said. "So we're now some, I don't know, 24 hours into this, we're very hopeful that we will continue to be able to implement and execute that."
He added, "The reason this couldn't happen instantaneously, there was a great deal of coordination that had to take place so that there can, in fact, be a safe zone for all of the YPG fighters that are inside of the Turkish controlled area that is covered by the agreement."
Turkey's invasion was launched last week just as Trump pulled U.S. troops from the area, a move met with bipartisan criticism and condemned as a betrayal of the Kurds. On Friday, Erdogan said he informed Trump about the offensive in a phone call three days before the operation started.
The agreed-to pause in fighting appeared to be a significant embrace of Turkey’s position in the weeklong conflict, giving the Turks what they had sought to achieve with their military operation.
After the Kurdish forces are cleared from the safe zone, Turkey has committed to a permanent cease-fire but is under no obligation to withdraw its troops. In addition, the deal gives Turkey relief from sanctions that the administration imposed or threatened since the invasion began, meaning there will be no penalty for the operation.