Whether the United States and the international coalition
against ISIS 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 ISIS or the
Syrian government.In Manbij, where women were once bought and sold as slaves by
ISIS 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
We have reopened or built several hospitals and 350 schools
attended by 120,000 students.
We have given 2,000 licenses to factories and
The physical reconstruction of our city has been slow but steady.
Most important, people are living without fear.Our civilian administration has given people the courage to
rebuild their lives and, for the first time, participate in building democracy.
We formed the Manbij Military Council, a security force composed primarily of
local Arabs, to hunt down terrorists and sleeper cells, fighting to ensure that
terrorist groups can never again threaten the people of Syria.Without international support, none of this might have been
Coalition forces fought alongside the women and men of the Syrian
Democratic Forces, and coalition jets hit ISIS as we battled the group on the
Together, we liberated more Syrian territory from the terrorist group
than any other force.
Statistics show that fewer people around the world have
died in terrorist attacks each year since 2015 — something attributable partly
to the sacrifices our forces made to eliminate the Islamic State.The inclusive and democratic political system established
across northeast Syria has undoubtedly succeeded in Manbij and it threatens
dictators and terrorists who want to see our country divided along religious
and ethnic lines.But we are grappling with a precarious future since
President Trump announced his decision to withdraw United States forces from
The American political class might not fully understand it, but these
soldiers who served with us do.
Trump’s announcement, one American
officer told us: “I am at a loss for words.
I can’t tell you why.
These are our orders!” Tears streamed down his face.Though ISIS is nearly defeated, we face threats every day
from a new enemy: Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
repeatedly announced his plans to invade our region, claiming that the Peoples’
Protection Units, or the YPG, have a presence here.We have repeatedly emphasized that the YPG has left Manbij
and that our forces pose no threat to Turkey’s national security.
Erdogan fears not the presence or the absence of any given military
force but the peaceful and democratic coexistence of Arabs, Kurds, Christians and
others in northeastern Syria.Mr.
Erdogan cannot exploit such coexistence.
He plans to use
the Turkey-backed Islamist opposition in Syria to invade Manbij, just as he
used it in the nearby Azaz, Jarabulus and Afrin areas.While Turkey claims to be returning these territories to
their “true owners,” Mr.
Erdogan is instead dooming Syrians to foreign
occupation and militia rule and making the prospect of peace after eight brutal
years of war even more elusive.Nowhere is this more evident than in Afrin, where Turkey has
been accused of enlisting former members of ISIS and militias with ties to
al-Qaeda to decimate the peaceful region and its autonomous administration.
Turkey’s incursion into Afrin in northern Syria displaced around 300,000
people, and the militias backed by Turkey seized, looted and destroyed property
of Kurdish civilians.If the United States allows Turkey to attack Manbij, that
will be our fate, too.Unfortunately, it seems that global powers are still willing
to play Turkey’s games.
Erdogan’s “road map” for Manbij does not serve and
reflect the interests of its people.
He also proposes the establishment of a
“safe zone” in the wake of an American withdrawal, a plan that Mr.
to have, in some form, agreed to.We are not opposed to the concept of a safe zone.
that it is possible for the United States to withdraw its forces from our
region without abandoning our people.
However, we will not accept any Turkish
incursion into the areas we have liberated, no matter the words used to
describe it.Any “safe zone” in northeast Syria must be guaranteed by
international forces and not by the Turkish troops and jihadist militias
massing at our borders.
An international safe zone would ensure that Turkey’s
borders are protected, without subjecting the people of northeast Syria to the
mercy of Mr.
It would also facilitate the continuing
reconstruction efforts taking place in our region, which are key to peace and
stability.And the United States and other members of the coalition
must support efforts for a negotiated settlement to the Syrian conflict and
ensure that our administration is represented in those talks.
beginning of the war, we have fought to build a stable and equal future for all
Syrians.Together with the coalition, we won historic battles in
Kobani and Raqqa.
Now that the war is coming to an end, we believe that the
international forces that fought with our people must play their moral role in
securing our dignity, safety and our vision for Syria’s future.In Manbij, where ISIS once planned attacks against the West,
children now grow up in a world free from fear.
The world has a responsibility
to ensure that their future continues to be safe, secure and peaceful.
our partners to rise to the occasion for this last moral task.