The news of the decision by U.S. president Donald Trump to withdraw American forces from parts of Syria's northern borders with Turkey and to give a greenlight to a Turkish incursion into the area has provoked a storm of controversy among policymakers and pundits. In my view though, it is important not to let the wave of commentary on social media drown out local perspectives on these developments, considering that is locals who bear the brunt of the consequences of these decisions.
In this case, I decided to conduct an interview with a commander in the National Defence Forces (an auxiliary force for the Syrian government) in Hasakah province. Amid all the talk of the U.S. and its relationship with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), it can be easy to forget the Syrian government retains a presence in the northeastern cities of Qamishli and Hasakah.
Below is the interview conducted this evening. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
A photo I took in Qamishli.
Q: First I would like to ask in your opinion why America decided to withdraw from the borders? What is the American plan here?
A: The plan is agreed upon. America used the Kurds for objectives the first of which was to inflame the area with a vortex of internal fitnas [strife], and its withdrawal has come to please the Turks and distance them from the Russians. Of course let us not forget that there is an American base in Turkey that is not the first but the most important and I mean the Incerlik base and in it are 50 American nuclear warheads and it is not reasonable for America to sacrifice an ally like Turkey for a gang of Kurds. Even the bombing that was done a little while back, Turkey bombed after 70 trucks carrying American weapons crossed from Semalka [the border crossing with Iraqi Kurdistan] to Qamishli: I mean the timing of the strike was after observation of the trucks and observation of their crossing.
Q: So do you expect that America will withdraw entirely from northeast Syria?
Also the Kurds' mission has ended and the Americans and Turks have entered into this mission for the sake of greater barterings that may not be on the Syrian land. This is a war of interests between great states. There are points of disagreement between Russia and America in more than one place and especially Ukraine.
So the conflict over the Syrian lands is being negotiated upon greater interests. Therefore I do not expect an American exit in the present time. And if it exits, it is not because of the Turks. America until now is supporting its presence in the area. Therefore it is impossible for it to leave quickly.
Q: Is there an opportunity now for the Syrian state and its allies in restoring authority of the central government in the areas under the SDF control?
A: It is not an opportunity. The Syrian state is not awaiting opportunities. If it had wished it would have intervened or inserted military forces, but there is what is important and more important in the ladder of priorities for the Syrian state. Now the Kurds are compelled to go to Damascus and seek the intervention of the Syrian Arab Army without preconditions. It is not in the interest of the Kurds to be stripped without cover and especially after the Americans abandon them. And if Syrian intervention occurs, it will be by the conditions of the Syrian state.
Q: So what is the end result? Will these events lead to the return of the Syrian state to all of the areas controlled by the SDF?
A: With all certainty we are sure of the return of the authority of the Syrian state whether or not there is Turkish intervention but the Turkish intervention may hurry the events and impact the field of war in Idlib. Let us also not forget that there is an agreement for the guarantor states and they are Russia and Iran.
Q: For example do you expect that the Turkish intervention may lead to the restarting of the military operations in Idlib in order to recover the whole province from the control of the insurgents?
A: After the three states met the map of military work has changed. I man there was a great mobilization towards Idlib, but after the agreement Turkey closed the borders and closed with them the agreement with America regarding the safe zone and perhaps the East Euphrates has become more important than Idlib in the present time.
Q: So in short do you consider the recent events to be something positive for the interest of the Syrian state?
A: Foreign intervention in one form or another is an occupation but perhaps they will be a blow for the Kurds in order to hand over the areas to the Syrian state.