By Shervan Derwish
Mr. Derwish is a spokesman for the Manbij Military Council.
Jan. 23, 2019
A soccer match in Manbij, Syria, which was freed from Islamic State control by Kurdish fighters in 2016.CreditCreditEPA, via Shutterstock
MANBIJ, Syria — Whether the United States and the international coalition against the Islamic State will protect Manbij and areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria from an unknown future is a significant test of their credibility.
I am writing from Manbij, a city of 700,000 people in northern Syria governed by a civilian administration made up of Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Circassians. Thanks to the Kurdish fighters who liberated Manbij in 2016, we have been able to enjoy freedoms unimaginable under either the Islamic State or the Syrian government.
In Manbij, where women were once bought and sold as slaves by the Islamic State terrorists, now they run economic cooperatives, serve in the Manbij Military Council and have equal representation in elected councils.
For the first time in Syrian history, we have held free local elections. We have reopened or built several hospitals and 350 schools attended by 120,000 students. We have given 2,000 licenses to factories and flour mills. The physical reconstruction of our city has been slow but steady. Most important, people are living without fear.
There are roughly 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria. Recently, a statement went out calling for direct attacks against them. Who sent it, and why?By DAVID BOTTI and CHRISTIAAN TRIEBERT
On Saturday I took my family to have a closer look at Syria.
This was on the Golan Heights, from a roadside promontory overlooking the abandoned Syrian town of Quneitra. The border is very green at this time of year, a serene patchwork of orchards and grassland, and it was hard to impress on our kids that hell on earth was visible in the quiet distance.
But I wanted them to see it — to know that Syria is a place, not an abstraction; that the agonies of its people are near, not far; that we should not look away. Later that day, in a suburb of Damascus, Syrian forces apparently again gassed their own people.
It’s fortunate for Israel that it did not bargain the Heights away during the ill-fated peace processes of the 1990s: Had it done so, ISIS, Hezbollah or Iran might in time have trained their guns on Israeli towns below. The strategy of withdrawal-for-peace has not been vindicated in recent years, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or Gaza. It’s a point Donald Trump obviously missed when he insisted last week on U.S. withdrawal from Syria, likely encouraging the apparent chemical attack he now threatens to punish.
“The documents and interviews with dozens of people who lived under their rule show that the group at times offered better services and proved itself more capable than the government it had replaced.They also suggest that the militants learned from mistakes the United States made in 2003 after it invaded Iraq, including the decision to purge members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling party from their positions and bar them from future employment. That decree succeeded in erasing the Baathist state, but also gutted the country’s civil institutions, creating the power vacuum that groups like ISIS rushed to fill.Islamic State fighters swept through the desert after seizing Mosul.
A little more than a decade later, after seizing huge tracts of Iraq and Syria, the militants tried a different tactic. They built their state on the back of the one that existed before, absorbing the administrative know-how of its hundreds of government cadres. An examination of how the group governed reveals a pattern of collaboration between the militants and the civilians under their yoke.
One of the keys to their success was their diversified revenue stream. The group drew its income from so many strands of the economy that airstrikes alone were not enough to cripple it.”
DL: This is one of the most amazing articles I’ve read in years. So much work, to understand so much destruction. Thank you to all who made this possible.
Two weeks ago, standing on the Syria-Israel border in the Golan Heights, I wrote a column positing that this frontier was the “second most dangerous” war zone in the world today — after the Korean Peninsula. Your honor, I’d like to revise and amend that column.
Having watched the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, where North and South Korean athletes marched last week into the stadium together in a love fest; and having also watched Israel shoot down an Iranian drone from Syria, bomb an Iranian base in Syria and lose one of its own F-16s to a Syrian missile; and after U.S. jets killed a bunch of Russian “contractors” who got too close to our forces in Syria, I now think the Syria-Israel-Lebanon front is the most dangerous corner in the world.
Where else can you find Syrian, Russian, American, Iranian and Turkish troops or advisers squaring off on the ground and in the air — along with pro-Iranian Shiite mercenaries from Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan; pro-U.S. Kurdish fighters from northern Syria; ISIS remnants; various pro-Saudi and pro-Jordanian anti-Syrian regime Sunni rebels and — I am not making this up — pro-Syrian regime Russian Orthodox Cossack “contractors” who went to Syria to defend Mother Russia from “crazy barbarians” — all rubbing against one another?
As The Washington Post pointed out, “In the space of a single week last week, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Israel lost aircraft to hostile fire” in Syria.
The term “powder keg” was invented for this place. And the term “3-D battlefield” doesn’t even begin to capture its complexity. It is a multidimensional battlefield that requires a quantum computer to sort out the myriad number of actors, shifting alliances and lines of conflict.”
Good article, but this top comment raised some issures.
“the Russians just want to siphon off as much oil as they can from Syria, and use it as a base and an ego booster, without clashing with anyone”
That completely misunderstands the Russians. Syria has very little oil, less than it consumes itself, while Russia is one of the world’s major producers that is short of markets more than oil. There is no oil to siphon off, nor any need for Russia to do so.
Russia is not fixated on a base in Syria. That is projecting American ideas and priorities onto the Russians. They have always had a “base” in Syria, that they neglected, made no investment in, and allowed to silt up and rust. They’ve never used any bases in Syria except to do what they are now doing in Syria.
Ego boost? Russia got that from Crimea. They get none from Syria. The Russian public fears such a war.
So why is Russia there? Because the jihadi war is just a few hundred miles overland from their own restive Muslim regions in which they recently fought difficult wars. They are containing it there, so they don’t have to contain it at home (again).
Such a total misread of a major player like Russia suggests this column is not entirely reliable. It projects American ideas as if others think like us. They don’t.
The conclusion is also wrong. Syria is very unlikely to reach a power sharing accord like Lebanon did. Lebanon had a long history of power sharing among three major groups, while Syria has always been a top down very heavy handed dictatorship.
“AFRIN, Syria — For more than a week, my home in northwestern Syria has been under a full-scale assault by the Turkish Army and thousands of Turkish-aligned Islamist jihadists.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been threatening this invasion for a very long time. The Turkish Army has been targeting our villages with mortars and artillery for many months now.
I and my fellow members of the Kurdish Women’s and People’s Protection Units, often known as the Y.P.J. and Y.P.G., have fought hard for years to keep the Islamic State out of this autonomous region of Syria known as Rojava. We endured Turkey’s barrages and avoided returning fire, even after civilian casualties, so as not to provide a pretext for this invasion.
But Mr. Erdogan has nevertheless unleashed airstrikes, tanks and troops on this area that was once a relative island of peace in this war-torn country.
One would imagine the international community and especially the United States, which has been more than happy to partner with us in the fight against the Islamic State, would firmly oppose such an unprovoked attack executed in the name of racial hatred — Mr. Erdogan has stated his intention to commit ethnic cleansing of Afrin’s Kurdish population, or, as he says, to give the region to its “real owners” — but instead, it has been greeted largely with silence, and therefore tacitly condoned.”
The US should protect our major ally in the region, who has done the bulk of our fighting.
“Let’s go through the logic: There are actually two ISIS manifestations.One is “virtual ISIS.” It is satanic, cruel and amorphous; it disseminates its ideology through the internet. It has adherents across Europe and the Muslim world. In my opinion, that ISIS is the primary threat to us, because it has found ways to deftly pump out Sunni jihadist ideology that inspires and gives permission to those Muslims on the fringes of society who feel humiliated — from London to Paris to Cairo — to recover their dignity via headline-grabbing murders of innocents.
The other incarnation is “territorial ISIS.” It still controls pockets in western Iraq and larger sectors of Syria. Its goal is to defeat Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria — plus its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies — and to defeat the pro-Iranian Shiite regime in Iraq, replacing both with a caliphate.”
Brillian thinking, thank you Thomas Friedman.
Here is a comment I can support:
“I don’t get it. President Trump is offering to defeat ISIS in Syria for free — and then pivot to strengthening the moderate anti-Assad rebels. Why? When was the last time Trump did anything for free?”
Good points. I don’t think Trump gives one hoot about Syria. Nor do I believe would have done anything like he did last week if his daughter hadn’t spoken up. That blew my mind: it takes a daughter to convince her father that banned chemical gassing is criminal?
As to your main point, that ISIS is a state of mind that can’t be simply eliminated, I say yes, yes, and yes. Virtually all recent ISIS attacks on American soil were committed by naturalized Americans converted to jihadism online.
The Trump administration seems unconcerned about the more powerful online ISIS while territorial ISIS has so many players it’s a wonder they all know who they’re shooting at.
Syria is going the way of Lebanon, stripped down to rubble. Trump should do some hard thinking (not easy for him) as to what his objective is in Syria, if any. It’s a complex dilemma that risks focusing on the easier aspects of war ( troops and treasure) over the near impossible task of eliminating online jihadism made worse by administration policies like the “Muslim ban,” all Trump’s (and Bannon’s) anti-Islam rhetoric.
“In other words, showy actions that win a news cycle or two are no substitute for actual, coherent policies. Indeed, their main lasting effect can be to squander a government’s credibility. Which brings us to last week’s missile strike on Syria.
The attack instantly transformed news coverage of the Trump administration. Suddenly stories about infighting and dysfunction were replaced with screaming headlines about the president’s toughness and footage of Tomahawk launches.
But outside its effect on the news cycle, how much did the strike actually accomplish? A few hours after the attack, Syrian warplanes were taking off from the same airfield, and airstrikes resumed on the town where use of poison gas provoked Mr. Trump into action. No doubt the Assad forces took some real losses, but there’s no reason to believe that a one-time action will have any effect on the course of Syria’s civil war.”
This might be more complicated than some of of the top Trump critics in the comments here realize. I even disagree, gently, with Paul Krugman, when he writes: “No, we haven’t learned that Mr. Trump is an effective leader. Ordering the U.S. military to fire off some missiles is easy. Doing so in a way that actually serves American interests is the hard part, and we’ve seen no indication whatsoever that Mr. Trump and his advisers have figured that part out.”
While is annoying that this helps Trump on many fronts, it nevertheless was a brilliant move on his part. I feel obligated to remind Dr. Krugman, who I consider one of my greatest teachers, that it was Secretary of State John Kerry who said repeatedly, and I paraphrase, I need some displays of military muscle in Syria, to support our political efforts. Our enemies think we are so wounded, they can ignore us with utter impugnity.
Regardless of his reasons or motivations, Trump has done the right thing.
Yes he could and should do much more, but he has enforced one of Obama’s red lines.
Obama did actually enforce his one red line, by having the Assad govt give up its chemical weapons through Russia. See my recent post, After the Missiles, We Need Smart Diplomacy on Syria – by Anthony Blinken – NYT, April 7, 2017
I fear Trump will be tempted to use his missile attacks, not to help the people of Syria, but himself. It is up to his foreign policy team to help him move towards some sort of rehabilitation with the foreign policy establishment of both parties.
“President Donald J. Trump was right to strike at the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using a weapon of mass destruction, the nerve agent sarin, against its own people. Mr. Trump may not want to be “president of the world” but when a tyrant blatantly violates a basic norm of international conduct — in this case, the ban on using chemical or biological weapons in armed conflict, put in place after World War I — the world looks to America to act. Mr. Trump did, and for that he should be commended.The real test for Mr. Trump is what comes next. He has shown a total lack of interest in working to end Syria’s civil war. Now, the administration has leverage it should test with the Assad regime and Russia to restrain Syria’s air force, stop any use of chemical or biological weapons, implement an effective cease-fire in Syria’s civil war and even move toward a negotiated transition of power — goals that eluded the Obama administration.”
I support this writer, and the following comment:
Thank you, Mr. Blinken, for reminding the incredibly large number of Americans who seemed to forget what *actually* happened in 2013, rather than the propaganda version we’ve heard so often. Yes, Obama unleashed a threat to Assad–the ‘red line’–but the threat didn’t fail, as is so often heard, it worked! An American president took a gun to a gunfight, and got the other guy to back down without shots being fired. We, and the Russians, spent the next 3 years on ships in the Mediterranean destroying the Assad regime’s chemical weapons stockpile.
Yes, we discovered later that he managed to keep a fraction under wraps, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have obtained them from just across the border, or from Iran, even if every single one of his wmd’s had been destroyed in 2013-15. The point is, we proclaim to everyone what a ‘peace-loving’ nation we are. That means nothing if we continue to call a diplomatic success a ‘failure’.
Four years have changed much in Syria. Assad was in dire straits in 2013. Had an American ‘shoot first’ strategy succeeded in helping topple his regime then, the American public might’ve been asked to support yet another ground force to prevent genocide in the Middle East–in the middle of a very messy civil war. It would’ve been a Libya on thermonuclear steroids (and we saw what happened in Libya).
So, buck up America, and stop dismissing successful diplomacy as ‘wimping out’. We avoided quagmire in 2013. Let’s see how this plays in 2017.
“WASHINGTON — President Trump said Thursday night that the United States had carried out a missile strike in Syria in response to the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack this week, which killed more than 80 civilians.
“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air base in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched,” Mr. Trump said in remarks at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
Mr. Trump — who was accompanied by senior advisers, including Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist; Reince Priebus, his chief of staff; his daughter Ivanka Trump; and others — said his decision had been prompted in part by what he called the failures by the world community to respond effectively to the Syrian civil war.”
Dear Margaret, and all the commentators blasting the Trump Team’s bombing of a Syrian military airbase. The NYT today, in the article before these comments, by Michael Gordon et al, stated: “The Pentagon on Thursday night released a graphic showing the flight track of Syrian aircraft as they left the Shayrat field on Tuesday and carried out the chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province.”
This measured response is similar to what the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Hillary Clinton asked Obama to order, when the Syrian government crossed Obama’s Red line on chemical weapons.
Trump has just sent a grown up message to Bashar Assad, the Iranians, the North Koreans, and China, that we are still a world power, and we are not hog tied by our mistakes of the past. It was Secretary of State John Kerry, who said repeatedly, I need some show of force, for people to take our diplomatic efforts seriously.