The Pentagon is exploring a plan for its Syrian Kurdish allies, who play a crucial role in the fight against Islamic State, to form an alliance with the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad, Al-Monitor’s Amberin Zaman reported.
The proposal is said to be part of a broader reassessment of the United States’ Syria policy currently underway at the State Department, with input sought from Turkey.
Reportedly discussed at a meeting convened by the White House National Security Council on 18 January, the plan was muted to “protect” the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the ongoing battle against ISIS. Details of the proposed strategy have not been made public.
Speaking to Al-Monitor late Sunday, SDF commander Mazlum Abdi expressed surprise and disbelief at the proposed strategy. Underscoring strained relations between the Syrian Kurdish forces and the Syrian Assad government, Abdi said the notion was “utterly unviable”.
Furthermore, Abdi argued that the Syrian Arab Army, under Assad’s control, was ill-equipped to effectively counter ISIS. Assad’s forces were “incapable of defending its territories against ISIS, let alone ours,” Abdi said, pointing out that ISIS currently controls significant areas of Deir Ezzor on the Syrian government side of the Euphrates and maintains a presence on the key route into Damascus.
Citing evidence of an ISIS resurgence in regions under the control of Syrian government, experts such as Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute also warned of the potential consequences of such an arrangement. Lister highlighted a recent spike in ISIS attacks in Syria, underscoring the risk of further empowering the extremist group should they gain additional territory.
Speculation has been raised on whether the proposal signals that the Pentagon is preparing to withdraw US troops from northeastern Syria. While the Biden administration has denied plans for a withdrawal, escalating tensions between Iranian-backed forces and the US have raised concerns about the feasibility of maintaining a US military presence in the region.
The idea of cooperation between the SDF and the Assad government is not new, with the Obama administration initially framing it as a ‘temporary, tactical and transactional’ partnership to address Turkish concerns. However, the complexity of the situation, including Turkey’s opposition to Kurdish forces and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, has added layers of diplomatic challenges.