Managing Washington's Flawed Partners in Eastern Syria

Article/Op-Ed in the Washington Institute
Oct. 17, 2017

Barak Barfi wrote for the Washington Institute about the US forces' need to balance its proxies and objectives in fighting ISIS in Syria:

At a September 9 press conference, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the Jazeera Storm campaign, which aims to clear the Islamic State (IS) from the Euphrates and Khabur River Valleys in Deir al-Zour province. The offensive has been spearheaded by the Deir al-Zour Military Council (DZMC), led by Abu Khawla al-Dayri (aka Ahmad Hamid al-Khubayl). A man of alleged ill repute, he illustrates the dilemma Washington faces in a war where many of the virtuous players have long disappeared, leaving more unscrupulous actors to fight for the province's hydrocarbon resources and other material gains.

On September 14, a Pentagon spokesman noted that the Kurdish-led SDF had captured more than 44,000 square kilometers of territory during the war and liberated 2.3 million people from IS control. As that effort reaches its denouement, however, Washington and the SDF have been forced to enlist dubious partners who are little more than mercenaries looking for a paycheck. Radicalization, attrition, and defections have left them with few good options. For example, former opposition leader Sheikh Nawaf al-Bashir joined up with regime forces this spring; like many fighters, he apparently decided that being on the winning side was more important than ideology.