“We value our relationship with the United States government and the American people,” said Elham Ahmad, Executive President of the Syrian Democratic Council, speaking at an event hosted by a Washington DC think tank last week. Ahmad, one of the most central political figures in North and East Syria, met with officials of the US State Department, US Department of Defense, US Congress, White House officials, and other US government offices over the course of a visit to Washington DC, September 22 through October 2, 2021. 

Elham Ahmad, Executive President of the Syrian Democratic Council.

At the top of Ahmad’s agenda was to affirm that the US military presence in North and East Syria would continue. The US presence has been key to securing the defeat of ISIS, as well as preventing further Turkish military aggression in the region. “The United States can strike a balance,” said Ahmad. “The US presence is a contributing factor to ensure a political solution in Syria.”

According to Ahmad, US officials reassured her that there would be no sudden changes in policy regarding the US presence in North and East Syria.

Ahmad also discussed the region’s economic stabilization efforts with officials. She asked for humanitarian aid, an open border crossing, economic recovery funding, aid in reconstruction efforts. 

The reception that Ahmad and her delegation received was friendly, with many legislators and officials expressing a willingness to protect the US partnership and further stabilize their region. 

The Turkish occupation of North and East Syria, as well as the presence of the Russian military, was a frequent topic of meetings. The Turkish military is currently occupying several major areas in North and East Syria, including Afrin, Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ain), and Tel Abyad (Gire Spi). The Russian military is allied with the Assad government, which retains official control of the country. 

Ahmad expressed the continued willingness of the autonomous government of the region to engage in open dialog with all parties. The United Nations peace talks on Syria mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 2254 have been marked by challenges, as the Assad government refuses to make concessions and the Turkish government continues to oppose any representation from the Syrian Democratic Council or the autonomous government of North and East Syria in the talks.

Many US officials inquired about the status of the over 50,000 ISIS detainees in al-Hol camp and other facilities. Roughly 11,000 of these detainees are ISIS fighters, while the rest consist of ISIS families and a large number of children. Ahmad repeated the request from the autonomous region for international support in processing these detainees, and support in repatriation efforts.