There’s fresh talk of the Turkish threat to North and East Syria, as Turkey moves more troops and equipment to the Syria border in an apparent move to intimidate US troops stationed in Syria. This once again poses a grave threat to the people of the North and East Syria. US military personnel are allied with the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as part of ongoing efforts to root out ISIS. Turkey and the United States are increasingly at odds over the US military’s alliance with the SDF and over the drift of Turkey toward Russia, as exemplified by their purchase of Russian S-400 missiles, which threatens the NATO Alliance.
US President Donald Trump stated he is not looking at sanctions on Turkey “right now,” though US Congressional leaders have recently made public statements critical of Turkey’s S-400 purchase. Trump’s administration recently confirmed that it is, however, suspending Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program in response to the S-400 purchase.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at the 2019 Ministerial on International Religious Freedom, sharing the stage with US Vice President Mike Pence and Religious Freedom Ambassador Sam Brownback. “America’s commitment to religious freedom will never waver,” stated Pompeo from the podium. The two co-chiefs of the US Mission of the Syrian Democratic Council, Sinam Mohamad and Bassam Ishak, spoke on a panel discussion titled “Will Religious Freedom Survive in Northeast Syria?” as part of the Ministerial. For more information, please see our article on the panel discussion.
A provision of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in US Congress would authorize funding for the detainment, processing, and repatriation efforts for ISIS detainees currently being held by the SDF. The NDAA is the bill approved each year to authorize funding for the US military. This funding controls US foreign policy in relation to the US Department of Defense (DOD). The House must pass its own version of the NDAA, then reconcile that version with the Senate version. The House Armed Services Committee approved its version of the bill on June 12, 2019, and the House is expected to debate it and vote on it this in the near term.
The Syrian city of Afrin, a historically Kurdish city in Northwest Syria, has been occupied by the Turkish armed forces since early 2018.
The Documentation Committee of AANES keeps a detailed ongoing record of verifiable abuses. In the past month, Turkish armed forces or Turkish-backed militias have committed the following human rights abuses in the Afrin region:
- Kidnappings and Killings: The body of Mr. Sharaf al-Din Sidu of the city of Jandrissa was found dead and burned among the orchards on June 23. He was kidnapped by Turkish-backed mercenaries on May 19 in the city of Azzaz. The mercenaries also kidnapped Mr. Rashid Hamid Khalil, who was killed because his family did not pay ransom. Mr. Khalil’s young special-needs son, Mohammed Rashid, was also kidnapped, and his fate remains unknown.
- Torture: Mr. Hussein Ismail, 75, was brutally tortured by Turkish-backed mercenaries, who tied ropes around his feet and lowered him into a water well. He had been accused on trivial false charges.
- Arson, Fires: Turkish-backed mercenaries burned 1,500 olive trees, which were civilian property, between the villages of Maskah and Jaqli Jom in the Jandrissa region. The fires also spread to nearby forest. Turkish-backed mercenaries also set fire to the mountains near the village of Badino. The Turkish-backed “Hamzat” mercenaries set fire to the agricultural land located in the villages of Barad and Burj Alqas in Shirawa District.
- Theft of Ancient Artifacts: Turkish-backed mercenaries dug near the village of Deir Balut in search of gold and artifacts that they can sell in the underground market, disrupting a valuable part of the archeological record in the cradle of civilization.