US Congressman Abraham visits eastern Syria to see Christians and Kurds

Abraham met with SDF General Abdi and Christian defense forces and saw key areas such as Raqqa and Tel Tamr.

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

US Congressman Ralph Abraham of Louisiana visited eastern Syria, where he met Kurdish and Christian leaders and also saw the work being done to help local people. Eastern Syria has suffered since a Turkish invasion that forced 200,000 people to flee in October. However, US forces remain in a complex countryside that also includes Russians, the Syrian region, Turkish-backed Syrian extremists and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.Abraham met SDF leader General Mazloum Abdi. The general tweeted that the congressman visited Raqqa, Manbij and Tal Tamr. Raqqa was once the capital of ISIS but the SDF defeated the “caliphate” last year and drove the jihadist group from there in 2017. Tel Tamr is a Christian area that has been threatened by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels. Abdi said that the US representative saw the security of Raqqa and the IDP camps for Kurds and minorities who fled the Turkish invasion, as well as “continued Turkish attacks.”
A Christian defensive unit called Syriac Military Council also tweeted that this was an important visit. The congressman met Syriac force leader Aram Hanna in Tel Tamil in the Christian Khabour area. These areas were depopulated by ISIS attacks and are not threatened by Turkish-backed extremists. The situation in eastern Syria is tense after pro-regime militias fired on a US patrol near Qamishli earlier this month and after Russian forces harassed US patrols on February 19. In addition the Syrian regime and Turkey are on the verge of conflict in Idlib, where almost a million Syrians have fled a regime offensive.

Abraham also met the Free Burma Rangers, a faith group that has built playgrounds, helped rebuild churches and distributed aid to Syrians, as well as provide medical support. Nadine Maenza of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom praised the visit. Abraham told Laura Kelly at The Hill that the purpose of his trip was to “express my deep concern for the safety of Christians and other persecuted minorities in the region, as well as my support for self-governance among the Kurds.”The congressman wrote in support of US President Donald Trump’s air strikes on Syria in 2017. He is one of only a few US elected officials to travel to eastern Syria, where the US has hundreds of soldiers and armored vehicles. The US support for the SDF, especially Kurdish forces within it, has been one of the most successful anti-terror campaigns the US has waged with a partner force.Between 2015 – when the US supported the creation of the SDF – and 2019, it vanquished ISIS and suffered 11,000 casualties. Controversy over the US withdrawal led to concerns in eastern Syria. US Senator Lindsey Graham traveled to Manbij in the summer of 2018. Abraham now joins the small number of US officials who have gone to eastern Syria to see the successful campaign and its results, and remark on the need for continued support.The trip was kept quiet and under wraps. Silence about it was kept mostly from the media until he had already gotten to eastern Syria and met several local officials. Once there, it was hard to prevent local groups from tweeting about it. Nevertheless, the presence of a US congressman in a delicate area is unique.