ISIS fighter beheading boy, 16, in Syria.
(photo credit: ARAB MEDIA)
It was May 1, 2003 when president George Bush stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and declared the end of major operations in Iraq. Behind the president was an enormous banner declaring “Mission accomplished.” By the time the last US troops left Iraq in 2011, this naive PR stunt had largely faded into history. In the meantime, 4,491 brave US servicemen had died fighting for the peace and long-term security of Iraq.
President Donald Trump inherited a mess in Syria.
His predecessor Barack Obama had been far too slow to support the Syrian Kurds. Instead, the former president had wasted millions on the Turkish-backed “train and equip program.” A policy that cost precious time, failed to build anything resembling a military force and saw US-bought weapons land in the hands of America’s enemies.
This has all changed now. I’m a British volunteer with the US-backed SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) in Raqqa. I’ve been fighting the Islamic State since December 2014. In the past week alone I’ve heard more bombs land on Islamic State (ISIS) positions than I’ve heard in three years of fighting. There are more drones in the sky, more US troops on the ground and much better coordination between domestic forces and the coalition.
Its not just military support that’s increased dramatically.
There is far more humanitarian aid getting to the civilian population under the Trump administration.
When refugees leave the city, waiting for them is food, medical aid and shelter. This is far better than the chaotic relief that went to the thousands of refugees in Manbij last year.
I write this article just 400 meters from ISIS territory and to the tune of the gentle thud of US mortars hitting a position a few kilometers away. For all the American help, the conditions in Raqqa and the nature of the fighting are still brutal. For weeks my uniform was stained with the blood of a comrade that died in my arms. Due to sniper fire, food and water can run low. The smell of death and the plague of flies in 45 degree heat is intolerable. We attack in darkness, braving entrenched positions and concealed IEDs.
Among all this violence, my mind keeps turning to the future. I may be filthy, bone tired and aching for home but I feel blessed to be a firsthand witness to the destruction of ISIS. Its clear to everyone that the destruction of ISIS is inevitable; Trump said he would defeat them and he will. However, the president can not wipe his hands of Syria once the terrorists are gone. Trump must not have a “mission accomplished” moment, where he rolls back support for near-term political gain.
Syria will need substantial investment to get back on its feet. The country needs billions of US dollars to rebuild infrastructure, schools and hospitals. The Syrian people need to feel liberated, like they have a future in Syria beyond the violence. This is easily achievable, if the leading coalition members divert a significant proportion of their aid budgets to Syria for the next few years, while granting political support and encouraging investment, then Syria will have a much better chance of achieving enduring peace.
It must be stressed that this economic support needs to be packaged within a democratic framework.
The SDF is the umbrella group that represents Syria’s diverse communities and is the military force on the verge of taking Raqqa. It represents Syria’s democratic opposition and – once it has defeated ISIS – should lead the negotiation with Assad in Geneva. It is quite clear that the future of Syria is a secular, democratic federation. Anything less won’t build trust or indeed represent the country’s different communities.
Politicians have a well founded reputation for “cutting and running,” either when the money or political capital start to run low. The best businessmen and women don’t go into an investment lightly – if they make a commitment to a long-term business interest they will stick with it, knowing that cutting funds and support early can destroy an investment. Let’s see if Trump the businessman can see the wisdom in this, even if Trump the politician does not.