America’s War in Syria: Fighting with Kurdish Anti-ISIS Forces

  • Published

America’s War in Syria: Fighting with Kurdish Anti-ISIS Forces by Til “Baz” Paasche, John Foxx, and Shaun Murray. Casemate, 2022, 304 pp. 

America’s War in Syria does a good job of presenting the conflict’s international politics while vividly discussing events on the ground. The book has three authors who participated with the Kurds in their operations against ISIS. They provide a vivid account of the conflict drawn from their experiences fighting with the Kurdish forces.

The work also deals with the American military involvement in the Syrian civil war, focusing on the Kurds as one of the principal opposition forces. The book provides an excellent timeline of the conflict. It encompasses the fall of Mosul in 2014 until the US withdrawal in 2019. In relating their own experiences, the authors illustrate the complexities of the insurgent movement in Syria.

The authors also discuss the origins of the civil war and how the Arab-Kurdish hostility helped to provoke its outbreak. The book outlines the problems that existed at times between the Kurdish resistance groups and the Arab civilians who mistrusted the leftist orientation of the Kurdish groups. The work discusses the development of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the development of democratic centralism among the revolutionary forces. This democratic centralism helped provide local support for the SDF and, in the authors’ opinion, fostered a true democratic movement in the region.

The discussions of the various groups that made up the insurgent movement are of particular interest. The authors discuss the significance of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), which had been fighting the Turkish government for many years. The authors also discuss the significance of the Syrian Kurdish groups the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), and the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ). The authors detail how their involvement in the Syrian conflict caused problems in Turkish-American relations. This led to the US emphasizing a coalition of groups, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Although a major component of this group were the Kurds.

The author’s main argument is that, unlike other American interventions, this one worked and accomplished its goals in a way that promoted the aims of the United States. It was not an occupation as so many other interventions, despite their original intentions, became. The authors argue that the reason for this was that the United States did not force a western liberal concept of democracy on its allies. Still, they acquiesced to the insurgent’s incorporation of democratic centralism that accounted for the various disparate groups that composed the opposition.

The book argues that because of this, the United States only had to supply minimal military support. This support consisted of small numbers of special forces troops, selected air strikes, intelligence, and other forms of aid.  Also, by utilizing local forces, the United States did not need to send in huge forces that were occupiers. This allowed local people to maintain influence over their own security. The authors argue that the Syrian Democratic Forces was gaining local support and building up a true democratic movement in the region. They argue that the Trump administration’s sudden withdrawal from Syria in 2019, not only abandoned American allies but also weakened this democratic movement.

In conclusion, America’s War in Syria has relevance for readers studying the conflict in Syria, specifically but also for those looking at American interventions in general. The book would also be useful to those who are studying democratic theory and applying it to developing countries, and the Middle East in particular. The authors argue that this was an intervention with a minimal expenditure of resources that worked to bring democracy to the area. They argue that this was an authentic democracy because it accounted for local conditions. This led to a greater popular support and governance participation. 

John Miglietta

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."