Latest US-Syria policy news impacting North and East Syria

The Syria Study Group (SSG) met with the Jordanian Foreign Minister in Washington DC. Co-chairs of the SSG Dana Stroul and Michael Singh were present for the meeting, at which they discussed the status of Syrian refugees and other matters.

The Congressionally-mandated SSG continues to garner input for its report to US Congress, which will be due later this year. The report will make recommendations to Congress on US policy toward Syria and will likely be converted into proposed legislation in the US Senate.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was debated and passed last week in the Senate. The NDAA, which determines US policy and budget in relation to the US Department of Defense (DOD), contains several provisions that are important to Syria, such as the inclusion of an authority that would allow DOD funding of ISIS detainment facilities and repatriation efforts. This funding would be a huge relief to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), which is not currently receiving international support to process tens of thousands of former ISIS fighters and families. The Senate bill also includes several new DOD reporting requirements to provide reports on Syria to Congress. The House must now pass its own version of the NDAA, and then the two versions much be reconciled. For a deeper dive into the NDAA, please see our article, “US Defense Spending Bill Could Authorize Funds for ISIS Detainees.”

Ambassador James Jeffrey, Special Representative for Syria Engagement and Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, went off on a trip to Europe and the Middle East. According to a US State Dept press release, he attended meetings in Paris, Germany, Brussels, Israel, and Amman.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) leader General Mazloum Abdi signed an action plan with the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, to cease any use of child soldiers or recruitment of child soldiers in any of their units, meaning no persons under the age of 18. Previously, some units had been listed as having allowed teenage soldiers under the age of 18 to join their ranks. The signing of this action plan represents a significant step by the SDF to demonstrate that it intends to act in compliance with the international laws and norms of war and conflict.

The signing of the plan with the UN office for Children and Armed Conflict comes at a time when the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) is still excluded from the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 negotiations — talks which will determine the future of Syria.

The US Mission of the SDC was represented at events at the Wilson Center, the Foundation of Defense of Democracies, the Middle East Institute, and the Hudson Institute. They also met with offices of several Congress members.

Senam Mohamad, co-chief of the SDC, joined other women at the US State Department Office for Global Women’s Issues to talk about Syrian women. Mohamad also spoke on a panel organized by the Washington Kurdish Institute, at which time she made the following remarks:

Senam Mohamad, co-chief of the US Mission of the SDC, with Marci Hodge, US State Department Office for Global Women’s Issues.

“The northeast of Syria, like the rest of Syria, is diverse. All over Syria, you can find ethnic diversity and religious diversity, such as Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians, Turkmen, and so on. In regards to religious diversity, there are Muslims, Alawis, Druze, even Yazidis. So, there’s all this diversity in Syria, which makes us in northeast Syria think: how we can bring all of these groups together instead of fighting each other? So, it happened that we contacted all of the different people there, and we agreed on a social contact, let’s call it, in the area. They agreed to administrate the area together, they agreed to have a system based on gender equality. The women participate in all the institutions in the area, on the committees, about 50 percent. We even have freedom of religion, which is not found in other places in Syria. We worked based on these principles, democracy and decentralization, because we suffered a lot under the central government.”

Update on Turkish Occupation of Afrin, Syria

The Syrian city of Afrin, a historically Kurdish city in Northwest Syria, has been occupied by the Turkish armed forces since early 2018.

The Documentation Committee of AANES keeps a detailed ongoing record of verifiable abuses. In the past month, Turkish armed forces or Turkish-backed militias have committed the following human rights abuses in the Afrin region:

  • The Turkish-backed forces called the “Alhamzat” mercenaries tortured and attacked with knives two civilians, Nuzad Tubal and Omid Tubal, and forced their family members to pay ransom. Turkish mercenaries and so-called “civil police” have kidnapped several others and forced family members to pay ransom.
  • Turkish occupation mercenaries set fires to wheat and barley fields in the Gilbara village on June 2, and the forests of the Bulbula district and Wadi al-Ma’sara in Jondrissa on June 8. Mercenaries also desecrated tombstones and cemeteries in the Khalil village on June 4 to prevent people from commemorating their dead on the annual Eid holiday.
  • The Turkish “Amashat” mercenaries imposed a tax of $500 per resident on the villagers of the Shiah district, as a “personal protection tax” on June 12. They also of $100 per farm machine, 25% for olive oil and 20% for grape leaves. The “Amashat” mercenaries threatened kidnapping and torture if villagers do not pay. On June 1, the Turkish “Alamashat” mercenaries imposed a tax of $300 per tractor on villagers of the Qarmtlq and Khalil villages.

The international community must respond to the Turkish occupation of this sovereign Syrian territory, condemn these human rights abuses, and end the Turkish occupation.