Syrian Democratic Forces General Commander Abdi receives new U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to Syria Brownstein amid efforts to secure continued support as U.S. transitions between presidents

NORTH AND EAST SYRIA — General Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Mazloum Abdi received newly appointed U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to Syria David Brownstein on Sunday.

“I am honored to welcome the U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to Syria David Brownstein,” Abdi stated via Twitter, indicated that they shared a common vision for a future in which all Syrians enjoy peace and freedom.

“We look forward to working side by side with all our Syrian brothers to overcome common challenges and achieve this goal.”

As the U.S. transitions from the administration of Donald Trump to Joe Biden, there have been concerns among some in North and East Syria about shifts in U.S. policy by both.

In October 2019, following a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, U.S. President Donald Trump announced and immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria.

Shortly after Trump’s announcement, Turkey and its proxies in the Syrian National Army (SNA), a coalition of militias, several of them with extremist ideologies, formed and funded by Turkey, invaded the cities of Rish Ayno (Ras al-Ayn) and Tel Abyad in North and East Syria, displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians.

The unilateral decision to withdraw U.S. forces was meet with bipartisan criticism and Trump eventually reversed course, maintaining a U.S. presence in Dayro Zcuro (Deir ez-Zor) and southern Hasakah.

Since the invasion, dozens of Turkish military bases have been established in those areas. The bases are guarded by the SNA who are equipped with armored vehicles and heavy weapons. Additionally, a large number of Turkish commandos are reportedly stationed in the region.

Demographic change and the Turkification of the area continue, with residents being forced to learn the Turkish language, the names of public facilities being replaced with Turkish ones and the hoisting of the Turkish flag over them.

Other human rights abuses continue as well. Turkish-backed factions continue to burn agricultural crops, kidnap civilians for ransom, extort business and families for large sums of money, and engage in torture, murder, and sexual assault.

In September, Trump issued an Executive Order warning Turkey of following through on recent threats to continue offensive operations in the region. The executive order is, essentially, a warning to Turkey that if it renews its offensive operations in North and East Syria, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened recently. If Turkey were to restart its operation to create a “safe zone”, the U.S. could place sanctions on Turkey.

“The situation in Syria, particularly the Turkish government’s actions to launch a military attack on northeastern Syria, undermines the campaign to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, endangers civilians, and continues to pose an unusual threat to U.S. national security and foreign policy,” read the order.

However, given Trump’s unpredictable decision making, many in the region fear he will reverse course yet again and move to pull all U.S. forces out of Syria.

Conversely, SDF leadership remain confident in continued cooperation under Biden.

While President-elect Biden has expressed concerns over the increasingly authoritarian government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it is not unthinkable that Biden’s administration might prioritize “resetting” the U.S. relationship with NATO ally Turkey over its partnership with the SDF.

Forty-fourth U.S. President Barack Obama, under which Biden served as Vice President, took a minimalist approached regarding the Syrian civil war, choosing to do little to directly confront the Assad regime and focus on combatting the Islamic State when it rapidly spread in 2014.