Sen. Graham: US must continue partnership with SDF against ISIS

“The fight against ISIS continues. It is in our national security interests to continue to partner with the SDF, who helped destroy the caliphate.”

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Sen. Lindsey Graham (R, South Carolina) spoke with the head of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Mazloum Abdi, on Monday, the first anniversary of the liberation of Baghouz, Syria, which marked the territorial defeat of the so-called Islamic State.

“Had a great phone call with General Mazloum, leader of the Syrian Democratic Forces today,” Graham tweeted.

“The fight against ISIS continues,” Graham added. “It is in our national security interests to continue to partner with the SDF, who helped destroy the caliphate.”

Their conversation took place as several US officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, hailed the passage of one year since the Islamic State was driven out of its last stronghold in Syria—although the terrorist group has seen something of a resurgence in the time since, as the Rojava Information Center reported.

Read More: ISIS remains deadly threat in Syria one year after military defeat in Baghouz: report

Graham, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also cited two other key US objectives in northeast Syria: to “protect the oil from ISIS and Iran” and “work toward a future political settlement favorable to the Syrian people,” as called for in UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

“Concern was expressed about Russian aggression along Turkey-Syrian border,” Graham added in his tweet, “and potential efforts by Russia to grab oil.”

“We must not let Russia benefit from the US fight against ISIS,” the Senator concluded.

It appeared from Graham’s tweet that Abdi had expressed concern about what Moscow might be planning in Syria.

Possibly, that concern relates to an understanding that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to reach with Russia. On March 5, Erdogan visited Moscow and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Then, on March 9, Erdogan travelled to Brussels to meet with leaders of the European Union (EU) to garner more financial assistance to support the large number of migrants, including 3.5 million Syrian refugees, currently in Turkey.

On his return flight from Belgium, Erdogan told journalists that, while in Russia, he had proposed to Putin that control of the oilfields in Qamishli and Deir al-Zor should be taken away from the SDF and used to finance Turkish plans to resettle refugees in northern Syria, Al-Monitor reported.

Erdogan also claimed he had made the same proposal to US President Donald Trump, and he maintained that Trump had told him that he was planning to withdraw US troops from Syria.

However, there has been no indication of such planning, at least publicly, from the White House or any other US agency.

Last October, following a telephone conversation between Trump and Erdogan, the White House abruptly announced it was withdrawing forces from northeast Syria. The decision, however, precipitated strong criticism, including from Sen. Graham, as well as from an important component of Trump’s political base, evangelical Christians.

Read More: Broad opposition to Trump on Syria, including Republicans and evangelical Christians

That policy was soon reversed, in significant part, and Trump opted to keep US forces in a smaller part of northeast Syria, where the oilfields are located, to keep them out of the hands of hostile parties.

That decision has allowed the US, and other coalition forces, to continue their partnership with the SDF in fighting the Islamic State and countering its reemergence in the form of sleeper cells, as described by the Rojava Information Center.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany

(Wladimir van Wilgenburg contributed to this report)