By the time Turkey invaded northern Syria, in October, the Ain Issa refugee camp—twenty miles south of the Turkish border—resembled a small city. In recent years, some fourteen thousand people had moved there, displaced by ISIS, Russian and American air strikes, or the repressive regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The camp had evolved from a few tents in a muddy field into a sprawling grid complete with shops, cafeterias, falafel stands, schools, clinics, mosques, a full-time administration, and offices of more than two dozen local and international N.G.O.s. As news spread of the Turkish offensive, Nashat Khairi, a camp mukhtar, or selected representative, urged the roughly thirty families in his section to remain calm. A fruit vender before the war, Khairi had fled his village, in the eastern province of Deir Ezzour, with his wife and seven children, after ISIS captured it, in 2014. They reached Ain Issa three years later. Since then, the camp had come to feel like home. Khairi knew everyone in his section, oversaw the distribution of food rations, registered every birth, and seldom missed a wedding or a funeral. His children received an education and had access to health care. His wife earned a salary as a cleaner. They never went hungry. In cold weather, the camp provided kerosene for their stove, and during the summer they kept their tent cool with a fan powered by a generator. Outside their entryway, Khairi tended a small garden, with neat rows of radishes and bell peppers.
This piece was supported by the Pulitzer Center.
Most important, they were safe. The camp stood on a strategic intersection of the M4 highway, which traverses Syria from the Mediterranean Sea to its border with Iraq. The town of Ain Issa, less than a mile away, was the headquarters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led army that had vanquished ISIS in northern and eastern Syria. Also nearby were two large U.S. military bases, which housed hundreds of American troops, contractors, and Foreign Service workers, who had supported the S.D.F. throughout its anti-ISIS campaign. One of the bases, at the former Lafarge Cement Factory, served as the joint-operations center for Kurdish and American commanders.
Khairi assured his fellow-refugees that someone surely had a plan to protect them. A fenced-off part of the camp held more than eight hundred wives and children of killed or captured ISIS militants: if nothing else, Khairi reasoned, the U.S. forces down the road would never let so many high-value detainees escape.
2020欧洲杯体育投注网As the Turkish forces approached, however, an alarming development inside the camp deepened the communal panic. Without informing anyone, the management staff, armed guards, and aid workers had all disappeared.
In town, meanwhile, about fifteen hundred S.D.F. members had been frantically organizing a defense. One of the commanders was a twenty-eight-year-old Kurd from Aleppo Province who went by the nom de guerre Brousque—Lightning, in Kurdish. Brousque had been fighting ISIS alongside American troops for six years; his four siblings, including his twenty-one-year-old sister, also served in the S.D.F. In 2017, when the S.D.F. conducted a gruelling urban assault on Raqqa, ISIS’s global capital, U.S. Special Forces provided Brousque and other Kurdish commanders with tactical guidance while keeping a safe distance from the combat. Two months into the battle, an S.D.F. fighter a few yards in front of Brousque stepped on a mine and was killed, as was a fighter behind them. The blast knocked Brousque unconscious. He woke up in a hospital, blind, his chest, neck, and face burned and lacerated by shrapnel. By the time he recovered and regained his vision, at the end of 2017, ISIS2020欧洲杯体育投注网 had been defeated in Raqqa. Brousque was deployed to Tell Abyad, in the far north, where he was assigned five hundred fighters to secure a fifty-mile stretch of the border with Turkey.
Tensions on the border were already high. The S.D.F. had grown out of the P.K.K., a Kurdish separatist movement in Turkey that had waged a decades-long insurgency. The U.S. military’s collaboration with the S.D.F. enraged Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our border,” Erdoğan declared, shortly after Brousque arrived in Tell Abyad. “Our mission is to strangle it before it is even born.” Turkey had twice carried out major cross-border operations to seize Kurdish towns and cities in Syria, and further attacks seemed inevitable.
2020欧洲杯体育投注网Then, last August, the U.S. brokered a deal between Turkey and the S.D.F. A demilitarized buffer zone along the Syrian side of the border required Brousque to dismantle all his fortifications, seal a tunnel system that his fighters had constructed, pull out of Tell Abyad, and move ten miles deeper into S.D.F. territory. In exchange, Erdoğan pledged not to invade. Brousque was skeptical of this promise, but he had faith in the Americans, who, according to the agreement, would act as guarantors. “We’d become good friends,” he told me, during a visit I made to Syria this winter. “I assumed that the advice they were giving us was in our interest.”
2020欧洲杯体育投注网After the S.D.F. withdrew from the border, Turkish and American forces began conducting patrols and aerial surveillance together. Though no Kurds crossed into Turkey, Erdoğan soon dismissed the buffer zone as inadequate, and insisted on expanding it. In September, before the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, he announced his intention to annex more than five thousand square miles of Kurdish land, creating a “peace corridor” where two million Syrian refugees living in Turkey could be resettled. The refugees would be overwhelmingly Arab and from other parts of Syria. The southern edge of the corridor would encompass Ain Issa, Khairi’s refugee camp, and the Lafarge Cement Factory. International observers denounced the scheme as a flagrant attempt at demographic engineering that was certain to produce conflict and humanitarian disaster.
2020欧洲杯体育投注网Two weeks later, the White House issued a press release stating that President Donald Trump and Erdoğan had spoken on the phone. While the details of the conversation have not been made public, it was a triumph for Erdoğan. “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into northern Syria,” the press release explained, adding that American troops “will no longer be in the immediate area.”
After the U.S. vacated the buffer zone, Turkish jets, drones, and artillery pummelled Tell Abyad and other border cities. The S.D.F., which has no air assets, petitioned the U.S. to impose a no-fly zone, but the Americans refused. Turkey’s ground forces consisted mostly of Syrian Arab mercenaries, many of whom had previously belonged to jihadist groups with a profound animosity toward the Kurds. As these militias pushed south, in armored vehicles, nearly two hundred thousand civilians fled from their path. Reports of war crimes, such as summary executions, followed the advance. Later, the senior American diplomat in Syria, William V. Roeback, wrote an internal memo lamenting that U.S. personnel had “stood by and watched” an “intention-laced effort at ethnic cleansing.”
2020欧洲杯体育投注网On October 12th, a Turkish-backed militia reached the M4, where it intercepted an S.U.V. carrying Hevrin Khalaf, a prominent female Kurdish politician. She was beaten to death. Videos posted on Twitter show the militants murdering a second unarmed passenger as well. “Another fleeing pig has been liquidated,” one of the assailants proclaims.