WASHINGTON (AA) – Washington does not understand Türkiye’s security concerns in northern Syria and tends to think of the situation as a “security problem” when it is a “political problem,” according to the last US ambassador to serve in Syria.
“I think Washington in general, and also many analysts in Washington, do not understand how angry the American relationship with the YPG makes Turkey,” Robert Ford, who was the US ambassador to Syria between 2011 and 2014 stated in an interview.
The US policy on Syria has been one of the most challenging issues between the two NATO allies as Türkiye has never accepted the US’ backing of the Kurdish nationalist YPG because of its ties to the PKK.
The US on the other hand sees the YPG — referred to as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — as a partner in the fight against ISIS in Syria and does not consider it as a ‘terrorist’ group.
Asked about the US strategy of defeating ISIS in Syria, Ford, a veteran US diplomat who is currently a fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, said: “I think the mission is impossible.”
“And the fact that they have been there four years after the capture of Baghuz and still there is an ISIS insurgency tells me the mission cannot be achieved,” he said.
“They can stay in eastern Syria, but they cannot completely eliminate ISIS. It’s just a reality,” he added.
According to Ford, the Sunni Arabs in Syria’s Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor provinces could eliminate ISIS but they do not have the “incentives” and “means” to do that.
“Americans need to think about how to de-radicalize fighters instead of just imprisoning them in remote prison camps, which we know from experience doesn’t work,” he stressed.
On US support to the YPG/SDF to defeat ISIS, Ford said it had an “immediate short-term benefit” between 2015-2019.
“Like now, in 2023, can the YPG stop recruitment in places like Deir ez-Zor or Hasakah of unhappy young people that join ISIS? They can’t. In fact, if anything, there’s a lot of resentment among local Arab communities towards the YPG,” he said.
“This is a question of empowering the local communities to do more,” he added.
US troops in Syria ‘should come home’
According to Ford, the American mission in eastern Syria is going to continue “indefinitely” and he sees “no clear end to it.”
“The last stronghold of ISIS in Baghuz fell more than four years ago now. The Americans are still there. The Americans don’t have a clear idea what they need to withdraw,” he said, adding public support in the US is also “so far okay.”
Earlier this month, the US House of Representatives voted against a resolution directing the Biden administration to withdraw all US troops from Syria in a 103-321 vote.
“There is not yet in Washington a critical majority who support withdrawing the troops from eastern Syria or who support withdrawing aid from the Syrian Democratic Forces,” he said.
Ford said he believes the American troops in Syria “should come home.”