Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Northeast Syria

Ambassador Richard Mills
Deputy U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 27, 2022


Thank you, Madam President. And thank you Under-Secretary-General Voronkov for your briefing.

The United States remains deeply concerned about the situation in northeast Syria, and in particular the continued threat posed by ISIS. We welcome reports that local forces have regained full control of the detention facility in Hasakah and have captured all ISIS fighters. To be sure, enormous progress has been made in the fight against ISIS, thanks to the efforts of the Global Coalition. Stabilization initiatives in liberated communities have been critical in preventing the return of ISIS. But as we have consistently told this Council, ISIS is not yet defeated. The group has continued to launch brazen terrorist attacks, with no regard for the safety of civilians or civilian infrastructure. That is why the Global Coalition has remained not only vigilant, but actively engaged – especially in northeast Syria.

This recent ISIS attack underscores the threat that ISIS continues to pose in Syria – as well as the risks associated with holding ISIS detainees in makeshift facilities in the region indefinitely. The Coalition is working to ensure that ISIS detainees who remain in northeast Syria are safely and humanely housed in accordance with international standards. And we call on Member States to support this effort. Even prior to this attack, the existing facilities were insufficient, and the damage caused will only exacerbate the problem. We know that thousands of civilians fled areas near the facility and are seeking shelter elsewhere in the city. We commend the work of the local authorities and humanitarian organizations providing who are providing urgent assistance, and we are committed to facilitating that response.

U.S. armed forces are present in northeast Syria, as part of the Global Coalition, for the sole purpose of continuing the fight against ISIS. We are proud to work alongside local Syrian partners, and we honor the sacrifices they have made in this campaign. As ever, we encourage all Member States to act alongside us to ensure ISIS never again finds safe haven anywhere in the world. We also encourage all Member States to support the repatriation, the rehabilitation, the reintegration, and prosecution, where appropriate, of their nationals currently in northeast Syria. The United States is deeply grateful to governments and communities across the world who have brought their nationals home. We stand ready to support any Member State that wishes to do the same.

We also urge Member States to support the Global Framework for United Nations Support on Syria, Iraq, and Third Country National Returnees. This framework is co-chaired by UNOCT and UNICEF and enables the entire UN to support Member States on individuals returning from Iraq and Syria. This framework combines human rights-based, age-appropriate, and gender-responsive approaches to address the different needs of women, men, girls, and boys.

Fellow Council members, in response to the Russian delegation’s comments just now, which unfortunately have turned this platform into a rhetoric-driven mass of disinformation and – frankly – lies about the U.S. role in Syria, let me just say this: The United States is steadfastly committed to complying with our obligations under the law of armed conflict, including those obligations that address the protection of civilians. As a matter of policy, the United States routinely applies heightened targeting standards that are more protective of civilians than are required under the law of armed conflict.

The Russian delegation mentioned the tragic air strikes in al-Baghouz in Syria, and the U.S. Department of Defense has initiated a review of those March 2019 airstrikes. I would note that the United States government and the Department of Defense did this in response to reporting by the media – the free and independent media that exists in the United States – and something which, as an American citizen, I’m quite proud to point to. I, of course, can’t point to that same press in Russia, because there is no such free and independent press in Russia. And if such an airstrike occurred as the tragic result of a Russian military mistake, there would be no independent press to report on it, since there is very little Russian opposition available to raise the issue if the press could report on it. And that’s an important thing to remember.

Let me close, Madam President, by noting the situation in northeast Syria is but one component of the broader crisis in Syria, which as we all know requires a political solution, in line with Resolution 2254. This discussion could have occurred alongside either our discussion yesterday on the political file, or our discussion that just took place on the humanitarian situation. This Council cannot discuss the situation in northeast Syria without considering the wider humanitarian needs in that region. Years of hostilities and an ongoing economic crisis have pushed thousands of families into poverty and displaced more than 650,000*. Many are now dependent on international assistance for their survival.

We are grateful for the efforts of humanitarian organizations working in northeast Syria. But it is not enough for Council members to make expressions of gratitude – we have the power to do more to help. This Council can dramatically expand humanitarian assistance, including by re-opening the Yaroubiya border crossing between northeast Syria and Iraq. If we were to take this step, Council members would restore the flow of critical supplies like medicine and COVID testing kits to a region in desperate need.

Thank you, Madam President.