SULAYMANIYAH - U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on Thursday that they will continue to work in Syria after ISIS is defeated, but he warned that although the caliphate’s physical plant is destroyed, ‘anyone who thinks they're down is premature’.
This is the rationale for why the United States will work with all forces who can aid the efforts of the US coalition in stabilization.
In a joint statement last week, Russian president Vladimir Putin and US president Donald Trump referred to the de-escalation zones they drew in Eastern Syria as a potential blueprint for future coordination in the stabilization period. The de-escalation zones were drawn to prevent clashes between the Syrian government and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
“In Southwest Syria, there's a deconfliction zone that’s been worked out. We're trying to expand those in other areas, the idea being to try to get the fighting stopped,” Mattis said on Thursday.
Moreover, the US Defence Secretary further stated that after the fighting stops, the US see it as a priority to remove the rubble, IEDs, restore basic services, while not suggesting the US would help the actual rebuilding. He called this help with ‘just the basic stuff’.
“To get the fighting stopped, you get to come in – from rubble removal that we will help on. The locals will do it, but we'll do what we can, get them bulldozers, whatever they need,” the Secretary said.
“You got to train people how to do this. You don't want amateurs doing it,” he added.
Training locals in rehabilitation would ensure, Mattis said, that "refugees can come back, there's clean water, there's some electricity. Just the basic stuff,” he said.
The US official said that it is surprising how fast refugees are returning to areas of conflict. “We were surprised by it. This is an area where refugees or some of them have been gone not just for a year or a decade, but for a generation. It's been kind of surprising to see this. That's the only real surprise that we've seen,” he said.
Speaking on efforts already underway to tend to refugees and IDP's returning to the area, Mattis spoke approvingly of the work that's been done.
"we had enough NGOs and our own government’s work in there to be able to take care of them, the displaced when they get to town,” he said.
Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White confirmed to reporters that the aim of the US coalition was not only to defeat ISIS but to ensure stabilization.
“Again, we have to defeat ISIS, but there's also a stabilization -- there's the Geneva process going on. They're going on at the same time, they're simultaneous. It's not this or that. There's still ISIS in Syria and we're still in a fight to beat them,” she said.
The US Defense Secretary, moreover, revealed that they will work to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria.
“At that point, ongoing in Geneva, Staffan de Mistura has gotten a U.N. mandated plan, and we're trying to move everything out of Astana over to Geneva, so we can come up with the next steps. Those next steps will have to do with how do you set up a political reconciliation. That plan would involve an election of some kind, under international observers,” he said.
The PYD and other SDF backed parties were not included in the Geneva talks, which only further complicates the role that the U.S will play in stabilization.
The United States, insists Mattis, will nevertheless approach such a process with a spirit of compromise. “rather than walking out”, said Mattis, “We've got to make certain we turn this over in a responsible way,” he added.
“The diplomats are ready to work on it. The United Nations is ready to work on it. I don't see this taking a long time. At that point, we would see a way forward for Syria,” he stated.
Washington-based analyst, Nicholas A. Heras, Middle East Security Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) told The Region that the Trump administration has a vision for Syria.
“The Trump administration has a vision for Syria, and that vision is to build stability as an interim step toward a final agreement that ends the war. The vision laid out by Secretary Mattis indicates that the U.S. military is not planning to set up shop in Syria permanently, but it will also not rush its work,” he said.
“And that work is to support local partners, foremost among them the Syrian Democratic Forces coalition, to build stability in the wake of ISIS,” he concluded.