Turks and Chaos: A View from the Frontlines
"It's a zone of death, of murder, of ethnic cleansing and displacement. The people here call it a zone of genocide. And right now, the U.S. has done nothing to stop it." -- Dave Eubank, on the ground in Syria
An ocean away from the meeting between Turkish President Erdogan and Donald Trump, the reports from Syria's frontlines are a mix of horror and chaos. Whatever assurances Erdogan is offering American leaders comes with a bloody backdrop -- a 30-kilometer trail of carnage, tanks, and terror. Dave Eubank, founder of the humanitarian group Free Burma Rangers, knows. He's seen it with his own eyes -- Erdogan's proxies marching on villages, just miles from where they are. And the losses are personal. One of Dave's own medics was taken out, another casualty of the "ceasefire."
"There hasn't been one single day of ceasefire since this invasion started," he said on "Washington Watch." "Not one... I've seen their tanks, leopard tanks, smaller tanks, armored personnel carriers, crew-served weapons...They have airstrikes every single day from drones... I'm looking on my board right now. And just what our medics have treated and taken care of. I see 149 wounded. Eighty-three killed. That's just what we've taken care of. The hospital that we're in partnership with, the Kurdish Red Crescent, they've got about 1,000 dead and more than that, maybe four times that many wounded." There isn't even a no-fly zone. "Last night, it took us about four hours hiding from drones to go out in the field to drag two dead people and three wounded back."
Erdogan's allied rebels are taking out innocent people on the ground, while the Turkish drones hover menacingly overhead. "We've been driven backwards," Dave tells me from his location, "losing men every day, all the way to here outside of town of Tal Tamer, which is in the Khabur River Valley's historic Christian area." Only now, just 200 Christians are left. "And they will not stay if the Turks get here," he says soberly. "The Turks and the Free Syrian Army are about four to five kilometers outside the town. That's two to three miles. That's where they are now... They've [already] taken out six ambulances, including a strike right behind ours which killed one of my team members..."
When he treats kids in the refugee camp that Free Burma is trying to help, Dave has asked them why they left. "They said, 'The Turks will kill us.' That's what they said. 'The Turks will kill us.' These are jihadis." And they leave no doubt of it.
"The Free Syrian Army -- when they capture people, they torture them. They beheaded Syrian Army troops that came up to try to plug the gap. It's on many different videos now about three weeks ago when they captured two women fighters then mutilated them. And then we have civilians -- an old couple in their 70s whipped and left on the ground, Kurds, [who] didn't run away fast enough. So you're going to have the same things that ISIS did when they came to an area: beheadings, torture, rape. These are war crimes. And I think Erdogan is responsible directly for these crimes by unleashing this attack and supporting it by air artillery and other support. And we as United States... we knew this attack would come when we stepped out of the way."
Not only has the conflict jeopardized the containment of ISIS, Dave points out, but a rare haven of religious tolerance in the Middle East -- a place where Christians, Yazidis, and Kurds have all lived together in peace. Obviously, the U.S. can't solve all of these problems, "but our presence gave them a chance to solve these problems," he insists. "So we needlessly threw away a wonderful partnership. We needlessly gave away the moral high ground and betrayed these people, [our allies]. I think we can regain that by one saying we're sorry [and by] pushing our troops back up here."
But are apologies on the agenda today in the meeting between Erdogan and Trump? Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) wouldn't count on it. While the Turkish president sits down with GOP leaders to "clear the air," the former Navy SEAL had some advice for President Trump. "I think we should take a hard, hard line with them," he insisted. "I think it should be made clear to them that they haven't been acting as good allies -- not a good NATO ally or a good ally in the fight against ISIS in Syria. If anything, they're making the situation worse now..." Not to mention, he told listeners on "Washington Watch," "comfortably operat[ing] alongside Islamic terrorists."
"I was supportive of sanctions against Turkey for their actions. I still am. ...Allies act like the Kurds acted... They trusted us and we fought alongside them. The Turks have not acted in that same way. And so we want to hear how they're going to make that right..." So does the rest of the world -- some of whom, if the hostilities continue, won't live to see it if they do.