Will These Americans Jailed and Missing in Syria Be Left Behind By Trump's Retreating Troops?

A line of U.S. military vehicles in Syria's northern city of Manbij on December 30, 2018. The family of an American man believed to be jailed in Syria has launched an appeal asking President Donald Trump to help secure his release. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty

President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria has sparked criticism from the U.S. security establishment, as well as U.S. allies abroad. But a small handful of American families with relatives being held in Syria fear the decision could mean they will never get to see their loved ones again.

For the Kamalmaz family, Trump's announcement to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Syria was a now-or-never moment that pushed them to launch a public appeal calling on the president to secure the release of a family member believed to have been imprisoned in Syria for the past two years.

Majd Kamalmaz, a 61-year-old psychotherapist from Arlington, Virginia, went missing in February 2017, when he was detained at a checkpoint one day after he arrived in Syria's capital, Damascus. He had made the trip to pay his respects to his late father-in-law and visit relatives, his family told NPR.

Read more: Trump's 'impulsive' Syria withdrawal is a mess, but there's little more U.S. can do there, experts say

The United States severed diplomatic relations with Syria after the war began. Since then, the Czech Republic's ambassador in Damascus, Eva Filipi, has sometimes served as a go-between for the two countries' governments. Shortly after Majd Kamalmaz's arrest, Filipi confirmed to his family that he was being held in a jail in the capital. But that was the last the family ever heard of the father of five's whereabouts, NPR reported, with Filipi eventually falling silent on his status.

Majd Kamalmaz's daughter, Maryam Kamalmaz, told NPR she believes her father is still languishing in jail, waiting for the U.S. to secure his release. "He felt safe going in. He's an American citizen. He has nothing to do with politics. Why in the world would anyone try to harm him?" she asked.

Majd Kamalmaz had traveled to Damascus from Lebanon, where he had opened two mental health clinics to treat traumatized Syrian refugees from both sides of the conflict, The New York Times reported. He had also opened a clinic in Jordan.

Maryam Kamalmaz told NPR her family had decided to make their case public after Trump announced his plans to withdraw troops from Syria last month. "I feel that President Trump has put a lot more effort than any other president in releasing detained citizens abroad," she said. "Hopefully, he can bring our father home safely."

During his administration, Trump previously helped release American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was being held in Turkey; Egyptian-American aid worker Aya Hijazi, who was being held in Cairo; and Mormon missionary Joshua Holt, who was being held in Venezuela.

"Isn't the president of the United States one of the most powerful people in the world? We believe he can do it," Maryam Kamalmaz told the Times. "Hopefully, President Trump can look through our ancestry and realize that we are American, we're American citizens, my father is an American, and he needs to be brought home."

The Kamalmaz family's calls for Trump to step in to bring their father home comes amid growing concerns over what will happen to other Americans detained in Syria once U.S. troops take leave of the Middle Eastern country.

Among them is Austin Tice, an American freelance journalist who was kidnapped in Syria in August 2012 and is believed to still be in the custody of either the Syrian government or one of its allies.

National Security Council spokesperson Garrett Marquis told The Wall Street Journal that the White House has been working to secure the release of both Majd Kamalmaz and Tice, the only other American believed to still be detained in Syria who has been publicly identified.

Marquis said the U.S. government has been "in regular contact with the Kamalmaz family to provide support and share information" and maintained that the U.S. "remains committed to the safe and expedient recovery of all Americans held hostage or missing in Syria."