The United States will not abandon their allies in North and East Syria. This was the sentiment I heard during many meetings held in Washington DC over the end of September with Elham Ahmad, Executive President of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC). US officials underscored their support for our region, and offered words of encouragement.
Joining Executive President Ahmad were Mr. Ghassan al-Yosif of Deir Ez-Zor region and Ms. Nazira Gawria of Jazira region, as well as myself and my colleagues at the US representation of SDC. Together, we represented the voices and the words of the Arabs, Syriac Christians, Alaawites, and Kurds of North and East Syria, as well as the interests of all our peoples. Together, we carried the inspirations of all our peoples to the US government and the halls of power.
“Syria is not Afghanistan,” was a phrase heard often during the visit, as officials were quick to assure us that there would be no sudden changes in US policy toward our region.
It seems that officials in Washington wanted to emphasize the importance of the relationship between the US and North and East Syria. After all, the forces of our region, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), are key US allies in the fight against ISIS. Furthermore, our region is currently a base of operations for US diplomats and troops in the Middle East.
Keeping the current US troop levels in Syria is in the mutual interest of both the United States and Syria. Our Syrian Democratic Forces have been the decisive factor in the US-led international effort to defeat ISIS. Our region is famous for the bold women fighters of the YPJ units of the SDF, who battled ISIS and drove them out of our homeland.
The United States has a reliable fighting partner in us. But our kinship does not end there. We are united through our democratic spirit. The democratic model of our region, which not only involves free and fair elections but a commitment in our constitution to equality, human rights, women’s rights, diversity, and religious freedom. US officials know that we are an example of a true democracy in the Middle East, and one that deserves to be supported.
We of course don’t want to be dependent forever on the US presence in our region. But now, the US presence generates a balance of power that prevents further attacks against us. Turkish forces wait at the margins for a US withdrawal to attack us, wage further genocide against the Kurds of our region and other minorities, and seize more of our territory. The Turkish government and Turkish-backed militias are already brutally occupying the Syrian regions of Afrin, Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ain), and Tel Abyad (Gire Spi). New war crimes are committed every day against the people of the Turkish-occupied Syria. Without pressure from the international community, there is little sign the Turkish occupation will end.
The United States has much to discuss with Russia and other nations. Without breakthroughs in certain high-level negotiations, we could continue to be caught between great powers, a playground upon which other countries battle. The SDC is committed to dialog and non-military solutions to the Syrian crisis.
Furthermore, ISIS would surely be on the rise again in our region, if the United States suddenly withdrew. ISIS sleeper cells are continuously being rooted out by the SDF and US troops, and ISIS continues its recruitment efforts. The economic collapse of our region, the challenges in reconstruction efforts, the COVID pandemic, food instability, the refugee crisis, and many other difficulties have created rich recruitment material for extremists. ISIS feeds on impoverished and frustrated young people with little other opportunities. For some, ISIS is their only hope of a paycheck.
During our discussions with US officials, we discussed not only a military defeat of ISIS, but an ideological defeat as well.
We know that policymakers in Washington understand how economic hopelessness furthers extremism. They understand that education and economic stabilization, investment in the health sector, and other social investments lead to deradicalization. We need to invest in the young people, and enable them to build their country again after a decade of war, devastation, and instability. That’s why US officials are discussing ways to support the region through economic stabilization funding, development support, and recovery funds.
What we heard from US officials was hopeful. They know that the partnership between the United States and our region should be protected and supported. We have a chance to allow our region to flourish, and build a model that will inspire the rest of our country. Now, we need to continue the hard work of rebuilding, recovering, and re-imagining the future of Syria.