A US soldier high-fives a child while on patrol in Manbij. Photo: Staff Sgt. Timothy R. Koster/US Army
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The mood amongst Kurds in northern Syria is that the US is making a new commitment to them, beyond the current military role.
“We feel [the Americans] are more committed now,” Kurdish leader Aldar Khalil told Reuters.
Khalil is the former co-chair of TEV-DEM, the governing coalition in Rojava, northern Syria.
The United States and Kurdish forces of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been strong allies in the war against ISIS. As the leading member of the global coalition against the militant group, the US has trained, armed, and fought alongside Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
Americans have stressed that their presence in the country is solely to defeat ISIS and US troops will leave when the military operation is complete and the region is secured against an ISIS resurgence.
In April, US President Donald Trump said he wanted to get American forces out of Syria. But last month the State Department’s representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, said they will stay in the country until Iran leaves.
Recent visits to Rojava of US diplomats have given hope to the Kurds that Washington really has changed its mind.
“There’s attention, a political file and follow-up beyond the realm of fighting ISIS,” said Khalil. “At the very least, before there was no talk of this at all.”
The Kurdish-led SDF and its political wing the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) are in control of more than a quarter of the country. They have established their own civil administration, holding elections while largely ignored by the regime throughout the seven years of conflict.
As Damascus has defeated rebel forces in most of the country, with the exception of Idlib, and is looking towards re-exerting control over the whole of Syria, the Kurds began talks with regime officials in the summer.
Those talks have stalled, however.
Negotiations stopped because of the “limited path set by the regime which was not enough to achieve any progress,” Amjad Othman, spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), tweeted on Monday.
He said the US was not a factor in the matter.
“The US is an important partner in the fight against terrorism and its role will be significant in the future of any political solution. Going to Damascus was an independent decision and we are still open to continue the dialogue with Damascus,” he stated.
Manbij delays a ‘growing problem’ for Turkey
The United States has served as a buffer between their Kurdish allies on the ground and their NATO partners Turkey around the city of Manbij.
Ankara has launched two cross-border military operations in northern Syria and complains that the US is backing Kurdish groups it considers terrorists.
Washington and Ankara agreed on a roadmap for the Syrian city of Manbij that first saw the departure of Kurdish YPG fighters and weeks of coordinated military patrols.
They have now begun training for joint patrols, US Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Monday.
Officials in Ankara have complained that implementation of the road map is taking too long.
“The delaying tactic started becoming a growing problem,” presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said on Wednesday, threatening that Turkey could take steps to protect its national security “at any time,” Anadolu Agency reported.
Turkey’s parliament on Wednesday approved a one-year extension of its authorization for military deployments in Iraq and Syria.
Syria reaches ‘major understanding’ with Arab states
Meanwhile, in Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad is turning to the Arab world.
Syria has reached a “major understanding” with Arab states, he said in an interview with Kuwaiti newspaper al-Shahed.
Delegations from Arab states, which he did not name, are making plans for their return to the country, whether it be diplomatic, economic, or industrial, he explained, adding that Syria will soon return to its pivotal role in the Arab world.
Damascus is hosting
the 4th International Trade Exhibition for Rebuilding Syria that has attracted exhibitors mainly from Syria, Lebanon, and Iran. Tens of Russian companies took part in an international fair in the Syrian capital last month.