By Sinam Sherkany Mohamad

Sinam Sherkany Mohamad is the Co-Chair of the US Mission of the Syrian Democratic Council. She is a Kurdish woman from Afrin, Syria.

Many of the ISIS terrorists who have been discovered and arrested by the Syrian Democratic Forces in the past few months all have the same refrain. They are in it for the money, they say.

If many ISIS members in North and East Syria join for the money, then the solution to ISIS terrorism should be to find good, useful, productive work for people in the region. If stabilization and development assistance were taken more seriously, we would be well positioned to prevent another ISIS resurgence in the region formerly claimed by ISIS as their “caliphate.”

The territorial defeat of ISIS occurred in March 2019, when al-Baghouz, the last remaining ISIS stronghold in the so-called ISIS “caliphate,” was overtaken by our forces. Tens of thousands of ISIS members and family members were captured and brought into the custody of the SDF. This was a victory announced by then-President Donald Trump and celebrated across the globe. Our men and women paid dearly for this victory. More than 11,000 SDF soldiers lost their lives in the battle to liberate our homeland from ISIS. Now, ISIS survives in detention centers, and its sleeper cells pose a grave risk to the stability of the region.

Our Syrian Democratic Forces, with the help of the US military and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, have been conducting investigations and raids to rout out remaining terrorist cells. Since the beginning of the year, our forces have disrupted hundreds of terrorists who have been plotting to commit atrocities.

Furthermore, ISIS is still living and breathing, detained by the SDF. The tinder box of al-Howl camp houses more than 50,000 former ISIS militants with their family members, women and children, many of whom emerged from the underground caverns and tunnels of al-Baghouz after our forces captured the town. No one had predicted that so many people were hiding in the shadows as we battled ISIS militants, but all needed to be taken into custody. In the two years since their capture, the officials of North and East Syria have pleaded with the international community for help in processing all of these detainees, many of whom would go straight back to fighting for the “caliphate” if they were freed. So far, few nation-states have offered support. These detained ISIS members are sitting together every day, eating, praying, plotting new terror attacks, and teaching their children brutal ISIS ideology. 

Besides the risks of remaining sleeper cells and the ISIS detainees, our lack of development is another cause to worry about an ISIS resurgence.

Villagers who cannot find work anywhere else will seek work with ISIS. These jobs may not be the first choice for a villager, but they will be appealing to someone without better options.

North and East Syria, like the rest of Syria, has seen our economy imperiled. We have 80 to 85 percent of people living below the poverty line. We have a massive unemployment rate. Now, we are projected to see a wheat yield less than half of the 600,000 tonnes of wheat that our region produces annually. On top of this, water shortages such as those in Hasakah have become widespread due to the Turkish occupation of Allouk water station, drought, and the Turkish theft of water from the Euphrates River.

Economic peril is a known cause of terrorism. ISIS understands this, and they will exploit the hardship to recruit more members. As long as ISIS can pay salaries, they will continue to recruit new members who are desperate for any kind of work. 

What our region truly needs to prevent an ISIS resurgence is economic assistance. We need our irrigation systems rehabilitated, our schools rebuilt, our bridges reconstructed. We need our factories to be repaired, and equipment that was stolen and sold by ISIS to be replaced, so that our region can produce once more. We need training and recovery programs for our people, to catch up after ten years of war and instability. We need stabilization and development assistance for our region, in ways big and small, to ensure that our fragile peace can endure. This will help ensure the people of our region have productive work, and do not fall into the clutches of ISIS due to economic factors. 

We did the world a service by battling the scourge of global terrorism, and preventing attacks from spreading over the rest of the globe. Now, we need the international community to help us recover from battles that we fought for the sake of everyone.