Politics, Americas, Middle East

US strategy in Syria 'failed': Ex-US envoy

US 'must acknowledge that it can’t build a state,' and instead should rely more on Turkey and Russia, says Robert Ford

Beyza Binnur Donmez   | 26.01.2021
US strategy in Syria 'failed': Ex-US envoy


The Trump administration’s Syria policy was a failure, according to a former US ambassador to Damascus, urging the new Biden administration to change Washington’s approach to rely more on Turkey and Russia in the region.

"During his four years in office, U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly promised to get the United States out of the nation-building business," Robert Ford wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine, in an article published Monday.

"But the Trump administration departed from its no-nation-building policy to pursue one long-shot effort – in Syria," Ford continued, saying the US tried to use military force and financial pressure to compel the Assad regime to accept major constitutional reforms and a so-called “autonomous zone” in the country’s northeast.

Under US supervision, that region developed into a so-called “semi-state” with the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the YPG, he wrote.

Turkey has long made the case that the YPG and SDF are not separate groups, but in fact two labels employed by the terrorist group PKK – a group that has taken 40,000 lives in Turkey over the decades – and that US support for them amounts to helping the PKK/YPG establish a terrorist corridor along Turkey’s southern border.

Ford continued: "After six years and roughly $2.6 billion, this statelet is America’s baby, raised under U.S. military protection and shielded from hostile neighbors. Unable to support itself, the autonomous zone will remain dependent on U.S. resources for the foreseeable future."

"An open-ended commitment of this kind is not what the United States needs," he added.

Ford argued that Syria "has never been a major" US national security issue, adding: "American interests there have always been limited to preventing the conflict from threatening Washington’s more important concerns elsewhere."

Claiming the current US policy for Syria "does little" to accomplish that central goal, he said it "has also not secured political reform in Damascus, restored stability to the country, and dealt with the remnants of" Daesh/ISIS.

Biden should rely on Turkey, Russia in Syria

Ford called on the new Joe Biden administration to change this approach by withdrawing US soldiers from Syria and relying on Russia and Turkey to contain Daesh/ISIS.

The approach should aim to contain Daesh/ISIS without committing the US military to "another forever war" and acknowledge Turkey and Russia's "interests in Syria might produce better results."

"Russia is a far from perfect partner, but its support for Assad makes it the right force to take over the counter-ISIS [Daesh] fight,” he wrote.

“Moscow is committed to ensuring the Syrian government’s survival, and a resurgent ISIS … would seriously threaten Assad," he wrote, perhaps with Syrian oil fields seized from the SDF – meaning the terrorist PKK/YPG.

"To capitalize on this narrow strip of common ground, the Biden administration should strike a deal that delegates to Moscow counter-ISIS missions on both sides of the Euphrates. This would inevitably require an increased Russian military footprint in eastern Syria, and the United States would need to negotiate a phased withdrawal of its forces and a timeline for a transition from U.S. to Russian control."

Ford said the US will need to convince Turkey to secure its southern border to mitigate the threats against US allies or interests.

In fact, without needing US encouragement, since 2016 Turkey has launched three counter-terror operations across its southern border to protect locals and prevent the formation of a PKK/YPG “terror corridor” in northern Syria.

Ford said Ankara has "clear incentives to cooperate" as Daesh/ISIS has also launched terror attacks inside Turkey, stressing that Washington should help the country control its nearly 911-kilometer (600-mile) border.

He added: "Washington will have to provide Turkey with technological and intelligence support to monitor terrorist traffic."

But cooperation will be easier once the US is no longer directly assisting the PKK/YPG, he wrote, saying: “Turkey’s primary objective is to stop these groups from establishing an autonomous entity in Syria."

In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK – listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US, and the EU – has been responsible for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants. The YPG is the PKK's Syrian offshoot and in 2017, the terror group sought to re-brand itself as the so-called SDF.

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