Comprehensive U.S.-Led Initiative Needed to Restore Stability in Northeast Syria

Nine Recommendations for Policymakers

October 15, 2019

Washington, DC — Today, Americans for a Free Syria (AFS) released the following statement and policy recommendations to address the latest developments in Syria:

“The situation in northeast Syria is spiralling out of control, and Assad and Russia are seizing the opportunity to complete their military conquest of the country. We are at a moment of decision: Will the United States abandon all its gains made in Syria against ISIS, Assad, Russia and Iran, or will it step up in this crisis and fill the vacuum with clear leadership?

“With each passing day, risks increase of humanitarian catastrophe, resurgence of ISIS and a military takeover by Assad and his Iran-backed militias. These risks cannot be avoided through sanctions alone; there must be a comprehensive U.S.-led diplomatic initiative that includes a ceasefire, allowing for the protection of civilians and for U.S. forces to remain in northern Syria. A complete U.S. withdrawal right now will ensure the resurgence of ISIS and rapid advances by the Assad regime and its Iranian allies.

“We need a holistic approach to Syria that prioritizes civilian protection throughout, both in the northeast and in Idlib province to the west, which remains under threat of Russian and regime airstrikes. The United States and Turkey must immediately work toward a ceasefire and resume work on a jointly-patrolled buffer zone that provides Turkey with assurances that terrorist groups cannot attack its citizens from inside Syria. Special Representative Amb. James Jeffrey and Deputy Assistant Secretary Joel Rayburn have worked tirelessly over the past several months to address these issues and prevent a unilateral Turkish assault. Now, President Trump and Congress must convince Turkey to come back to the negotiating table or risk further ruptures with the United States and the international community.”

AFS urges the United States to:

  1. Pursue a national, comprehensive ceasefire that prioritizes civilian protection throughout the country, from Idlib to northeast Syria, which includes protecting the Syrian Kurdish population.
  2. Negotiate an immediate stop to hostilities in northern Syria, and redeploy U.S. forces to their posts on the border.
  3. Restart safe zone negotiations with Turkey that include U.S. joint patrols, and mediate talks between Turkey and the PYD to address Turkey’s legitimate security concerns.
  4. Provide complete sanctions relief and removal of tariffs if Turkey discontinues its military operations in northeast Syria and commits to a safe zone with joint U.S.-Turkish patrols. A joint safe zone must be enforced and should provide a safe area for refugees living in Turkey and elsewhere to return voluntarily to their home country and rebuild their lives.
  5. Reject Syrian regime control over SDF-held areas. Assad’s “protection” is that of a mobster extorting the vulnerable. Impose sanctions on any party responsible for enabling advances by the Assad regime.
  6. Support anti-ISIS coalition partners to continue their mission and prevent an ISIS resurgence.
  7. Ensure greater representation by underrepresented Arabs and other Kurdish groups in SDF-controlled areas.
  8. Increase economic and diplomatic pressure on the Assad regime, Russia and Iran to cease shelling in Idlib province, which is killing dozens every week. Pass the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act into law.
  9. Release the full $200 million in cancelled stabilization funding for Syria, while ensuring it remains out of Assad’s hands.

Americans for a Free Syria (AFS) is a non-partisan, non-profit that advocates for human rights, the rule of law and U.S. national security interests in Syria.