US troops and their local partners are striving to defeat the Islamic State and ease the suffering of civilians in northern Syria. Amidst years of suffering brought on by a brutal civil war and the rise of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), the Americans and their Syrian partners affirm their common humanity through collective acts of compassion and generosity. This spirit of giving and cooperation was on full display last month in the recently liberated Syrian city of Manbij when the Organization for Relief and Development (MORD), a local NGO, distributed hundreds of SoA-provided winter blankets to fellow Syrians displaced by the fighting. In August 2016, local forces backed by the US military, liberated Manbij, a multiethnic city that’s home to Arabs, Circassians, and Kurds, from ISIS. Since then, thousands of displaced civilians have been returning to the city to rebuild their lives. But with devastated infrastructure and limited public services, returning to normalcy has been exceedingly difficult, a challenge further compounded by particularly tough winter. Early in the morning of January 28th, dressed in layers of thick clothing to ward off the chill, groups of civilians huddled at the distribution points to receive winter blankets. MORD had planned several targeted distributions to ensure that the assistance went to those who most needed it. As mothers and fathers, some clutching their children, received stacks of blankets, a MORD staffer documented the transaction. Later on, while talking to her US military counterparts, MORD’s project coordinator expressed her appreciation. “We had nothing to give our people before, and the extreme cold weather made the situation more difficult,” she said before emphasizing, “We are incredibly grateful for the assistance.” The distribution was the conclusion of a multifaceted SoA project that involved forward deployed US Special Operations advisory teams, local government officials, and MORD volunteers. In the first week of January, US advisors relayed to SoA an urgent local need for blankets to keep civilians warm at night when temperatures fell below freezing. Given the nature of the situation, we moved quickly. Our field managers worked with their local network of enablers to locate and purchase high-quality winter blankets and then coordinated delivery to the highest-priority areas. In short, within weeks of the need being communicated to us, Syrian families were receiving the first batch of blankets. The successful execution of this project is an example of effective civil-military cooperation, harnessing the collective power of NGOs, local stakeholders and the US military in complex operational environments. Reflecting on the project, our CEO, Jim Hake, stated, “With our military stretched all around the Middle East confronting a diverse array of challenges, it is more important than ever for Americans, of all creeds and backgrounds, to unite behind our deployed troops and their local partners in the fight against terrorism. It is equally important, and frankly, in the interest of our national security, to demonstrate compassion towards the innocent victims of war. Strength, unity, and compassion are what our nation is all about.” Zack Bazzi Project Manager, Middle East
Zack served in the US Army and Army National Guard from 1997 to 2008, completing four overseas deployments to Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan.