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'Panic' as Turkish Ground Troops Push into Northeast Syria, 'Humanitarian Catastrophe' Feared by Kurdish Civilians

10-09-2019
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JERUSALEM, Israel –A military assault by Turkey against America's Kurdish allies in Syria is now in its second day. Turkish ground forces pursued Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria Thursday, launching airstrikes and artillery shelling on Syrian towns and villages. Many of those towns have Christians in them. 

A Plea to America

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), and Syriac Christians of Northeast Syria, have appealed to the US and its allies for a "no-fly-zone" to protect them from Turkey's airstrikes. 

The Turkish Defense Ministry said in a statement Thursday that Turkish jets and artillery had struck 181 targets east of the Euphrates River in Syria since the invasion began. The Kurds hope a no-fly-zone will give them a fighting chance. 

Activists in Syria say seven civilians and eight Kurdish fighters have been killed since the operation began. However, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that so far, 109 "terrorists" were killed in the offensive, a reference to the US-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters

Meanwhile, Turkish officials in two border provinces said mortar fire from Syria killed at least six civilians, including a 9-month-old boy and three girls under 15.

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said Kurdish fighters have so-far repelled Turkish forces ground attacks.

  "No advance as of now," he tweeted Thursday.

Christians and Kurds Fleeing for Their Lives Again

Civilians close to the border are fleeing for their lives with nowhere to go. Only a few years ago, this same scene unfolded when thousands were forced to flee the emerging Islamic State. 

The Turkish attack has destroyed the internet and cellular service in many areas, making it difficult for information to get in and out of northeast Syria.

Earlier this year, CBN News was in the northeastern Syrian town of Kobani. There we met with a pastor who told us last night that Kobani is nearly empty of all women, children, and elderly. 

"There is fear and panic among the people. Most of the people left. My family and the families of the believers left. The men only stayed in Kobani. We’re waiting and praying to see what God would do till tomorrow morning. We’re asking God for the nations to intervene, and for the UN Security Council to stop this war, and the displacement from Kobani and Tall Abyad and Ras el-Ein, in about six hundred kilometers of war and fire along the border," Pastor Zani Bakr told CBN News. 

Syrian Christians fear that Erdogan’s forces will use jihadist mercenaries to ethnically cleanse them from the region, as he did to 200,000 civilians in the city of Afrin in January 2018. 

“Our experience of Turkey’s ethnic cleansing in Afrin, Syria, after they occupied it should indicate Turkey’s real intentions in North and East Syria. Importantly they used jihadist groups who adhere to the same ideology as ISIS to commit human rights abuses, theft of property, and displacement of local communities,” the Syriac Christians of Northeast Syria said in a statement. 

Why is Turkey Invading?

Erdogan planned the Syria invasion to wipe out the Kurds and establish a “safe zone” where he will relocate 2 million Syrian refugees.

Turkey considers the Kurdish forces who operate inside northeast Syria to be terrorists due to their ties with Kurdish separatists who challenge Erdogan's power in his country. However, the Syrian Kurds are US allies who fought alongside American soldiers in the years-long fight against ISIS.

Warning of a possible “humanitarian catastrophe”, Kurdish forces in northeast Syria flocked to the Turkish border to face the onslaught from Ankara. 

The Kurdish-led civilian administration, known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, issued a general mobilization call Wednesday saying: "We call upon our people, of all ethnic groups, to move toward areas close to the border with Turkey to carry out acts of resistance during this sensitive historical time."

It also urged the international community to not stand by as "a humanitarian catastrophe might befall our people" in northeastern Syria.

The Trump Administration’s Response

The White House is condemning the invasion. "The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea. There are no American soldiers in the area," Trump said. "Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment."

The long-planned offensive was seemingly emboldened by President Trump's recent surprise decision to remove US troops from the region. 
 
That decision shocked much of the world this week leading to a sharp backlash from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
 
One of the president's most vocal supporters, Sen. Lindsey Graham, on Wednesday said the withdrawal could mark the "biggest mistake" of Trump's presidency. It's also causing members of the evangelical community to speak out against US forces leaving Syria.

Trump defended his decision to pull US troops out of northeast Syria on Twitter Wednesday, saying it was time for the US to disengage from the Middle East’s “stupid endless wars.”

“Fighting between various groups that has been going on for hundreds of years,” he said. “USA should never have been in Middle East. Moved our 50 soldiers out. Turkey MUST take over captured ISIS fighters that Europe refused to have returned. The stupid endless wars, for us, are ending!” he said

But Trump also has threatened to "totally destroy and obliterate" Turkey's economy if the Turkish invasion into Syria went too far.

The International Community Condemns Turkey

Several countries have condemned Erdogan's assault. 

Speaking to EU lawmakers Wednesday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: "I call on Turkey as well as on the other actors to act with restraint and to stop operations already, as we are speaking, underway."

  While acknowledging that Turkey has security concerns on its border with Syria, Juncker said the EU will not pay for the creation "of a so-called safe zone" in northeast Syria.  

The secretary-general of NATO is also urging Turkey not to "further destabilize the region" through its military action in northern Syria.

  Germany's foreign minister Heiko Maas said Turkey's invasion could lead to "a further humanitarian catastrophe and further displacement of persons." He said Turkey could "further destabilize the region and strengthen IS," referring to the Islamic State.

Emboldening ISIS

ISIS is virtually defeated thanks to the efforts of the US and the Kurds. However, there are still ISIS fighters in hiding and in captivity under the control of the SDF. These terrorists pose a deadly threat to the Kurds because while the SDF focuses all its attention on fending off Turkey, ISIS may try to reestablish itself amid the chaos. 

The Kurds were forced to confront ISIS Wednesday before the invasion began. ISIS terrorists carried out a “large-scale” attack against Kurdish forces in northern Syria early Wednesday morning while they were preparing for their showdown with Turkey. 

The attack targeted SDF positions in Raqqa, which was once the terror group’s de facto capital. Kurdish fighters say the assault involved three suicide attacks against them but did not give details about casualties.

The Kurds signaled that if ISIS captures part of Raqqa, they will be unable to fight the terror group effectively while also simultaneously fighting Turkey in northeast Syria. 

“The Daesh (ISIS) attack is large-scale and is not a hit and run operation. Now who is volunteering to fight them in case they capture parts of the city now that the SDF is busy manning borderline?” Kurdish fighter Bahtiyar Umut said on Twitter Wednesday.

A Call to Prayer

While Trump shows no signs of coming to the defense of US-allies in northeast Syria, evangelist Franklin Graham is urging believers to pray. 

“TODAY I ask that you join me in praying for the lives affected by the White House decision to pull US troops out of northern Syria. Both Democrat & Republican leaders are deeply concerned bc this would be, in essence, abandoning our closest allies there—the Kurdish people,” he wrote on Twitter. 

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