Crisis in Syria
November 7, 2019

In an internal memo sent on Oct. 31, William Roebuck, the senior U.S. diplomat for northeast Syria, wrote that the Trump administration didn't do nearly enough to try to talk Turkey out of launching a military offensive against Kurds in Syria, a person familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

Roebuck, a former ambassador to Bahrain, sent the unclassified memo to James Jeffrey, the U.S. special envoy on Syria issues, plus officials in the White House, Pentagon, and State Department. During an Oct. 6 phone call, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told President Trump he did not want Kurds near the Syrian border. The Kurds controlled land in northeastern Syria they seized from the Islamic State, and that was too much for Erdogan, who considers them terrorists.

Following the call, Trump ordered U.S. troops near the Syrian border to move out, paving the way for Erdogan to launch a military assault. In his memo, the Journal reports, Roebuck wrote that threatening sanctions and sending more troops to the Syrian border might not have scared Erdogan, "but we won't know because we didn't try." He also accused Turkish-backed Arab fighters of carrying out "war crimes and ethnic cleansing."

A State Department spokeswoman told the Journal the government has concerns these fighters may have killed unarmed civilians and prisoners, and "we have raised them with the highest level of the Turkish government." Catherine Garcia

October 16, 2019

The U.S. military conducted an airstrike on Wednesday against the base in Syria it used to train and equip Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State.

Col. Myles Caggins, spokesman for the coalition to defeat ISIS, announced that two planes bombed the base, destroying, among other things, facilities used to store ammunition. The goal was to "reduce the facility's military usefulness," he said, and the airstrike was "successful."

On Tuesday, Turkish-backed militia members started approaching the base, and the U.S. military used Apache helicopters and F-15 fighter jets to keep them from getting closer, The Wall Street Journal reports. The Kurds set fire to their part of the base and left, Caggins said, and the U.S. military then pulled its forces out of the facility. The "precision airstrike" was carried out before the Turkish-backed fighters could gain control of the base. Catherine Garcia

October 15, 2019

Moving up from the south, Syrian government troops seized several towns in the northeastern part of the country on Monday, one day after reaching an agreement with the Kurdish-led militia that has held control of the area for several years.

The Kurds and Syria reached the deal after President Trump pulled back U.S. troops from the border, giving Turkey the opportunity to invade Syria and launch an assault on the Kurds. The Kurds and United States worked together to fight the Islamic State in Syria, and the Kurds took control over territory lost by ISIS. After the U.S. retreat, the Kurds turned to the Syrian government for added protection against Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan considers the Kurds terrorists.

Syrian government forces were able to take control of multiple towns from the Kurds, including Taqba, which has a hydroelectric dam on the Euphrates. Kurdish fighters spent Monday battling Turkish troops and allied Syrian militias in the border towns of Ras al Ain and Tal Abyad. The recent developments are viewed as victories for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who counts Russia and Iran as his allies.

Complicating matters is the fact that the U.S. has about 50 tactical nuclear weapons stored at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, 250 miles from the Syrian border. Two U.S. officials told The New York Times that over the weekend, State and Energy Department employees were reviewing plans for getting the weapons out of Turkey. They are "essentially Erdogan's hostages," the Times says, and moving them from Turkey would basically end the alliance between the United States and Turkey. Leaving them is just as problematic, as it puts the weapons and U.S. in a vulnerable position. Read more at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

October 13, 2019

President Trump made a grave mistake by pulling back troops in Syria last week, allowing Turkey to launch a military offensive against the Kurds, a retired four-star Marine general told CNN on Sunday.

"There is blood on Trump's hands for abandoning our Kurdish allies," Gen. John Allen said. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces worked with the United States for several years to fight the Islamic State, and controls the northeastern border area. Since the Turkish assault began last week, video footage has emerged purportedly showing Turkish-backed militia fighters shooting Kurdish prisoners. This, Allen said, is a "full-blown ethnic cleansing."

The Kurds oversee prisons holding thousands of ISIS fighters, their families, and supporters, and hundreds escaped during fighting over the weekend. Allen — the former commander of American forces in Afghanistan and former special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS during the Obama administration — said this chaos was "completely foreseeable" and "what happens when Trump follows his instincts and because of his alignment with autocrats."

Allen is also unmoved by Trump's approval of $50 million in aid to Syria. This gesture rings "hollow," he said, and there's no way to say if the money will go where it should. "Who's going to administer it and for whom?" Allen said. "Hundreds of thousands are fleeing and the relief agencies are on the move." Catherine Garcia

October 13, 2019

President Trump's decision to move U.S. troops from northern Syria, paving the way for Turkey to launch an assault against the Kurds, prompted the Kurds on Sunday to reach a protection deal with the Syrian government.

Under this agreement, Syrian government troops will be able to enter Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria for the first time in years, The New York Times reports. The United States and the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led militia, spent the last several years as allies, fighting against the Islamic State.

There are still ISIS sleeper cells in Syria, and many fear that the Turkish invasion could lead to the terror group's resurgence. Thousands of suspected ISIS supporters are being held in prisons guarded by Kurds, and hundreds escaped during fighting on Saturday and Sunday. Two U.S. officials told the Times the military recently tried to transfer five dozen "high value" ISIS detainees, but feeling betrayed, the Kurds said no.

The Syrian government, which counts Iran and Russia as its allies, said on Sunday it will fight the "Turkish aggression," while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his troops have control over about 70 square miles of territory in northern Syria. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday morning announced all American troops will withdraw from northern Syria, in order to stay out of the crossfire. Catherine Garcia

October 13, 2019

Hundreds of people with suspected links to the Islamic State reportedly escaped from a camp for displaced people near a U.S.-coalition base in northern Syria on Sunday amid a Turkish military offensive and a simultaneous U.S. troop withdrawal from the region, Syrian Kurdish officials said.

The camp is home to about 12,000 people, including around 1,000 wives and widows of ISIS fighters and their children. The Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria said in a statement that more than 700 ISIS supporters escaped as clashes broke out between Syrian fighters backed by Turkey and Kurdish forces, though news sources were not immediately able to confirm that number. The remaining inhabitants of the camp are reportedly being evacuated by U.S. forces to another area, The Guardian reports.

U.S. troops stationed at bases to the west of the camp said they came under Turkish artillery fire Friday night, in what some suspect was a deliberate attempt to drive them away from the bulk of U.S. forces further east. Read more at The Associated Press and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

October 12, 2019

Gen. Mazloum Kobani Abdi, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, did not mince words when meeting with William Roebuck, the Deputy Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS on Thursday, CNN reports.

"You have given up on us," Mazloum said, referring to President Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria, giving Turkey an opening to invade, which they have. "You are leaving are leaving us to be slaughtered."

An internal U.S. government readout obtained by CNN also revealed that Mazloum told Roebuck he has considered gaining the support of another foreign power in place of the U.S. "I've been holding myself for two days from going to the press and saying that America abandoned us and that I would like you to get out of our areas now so that I can invite Russia and regime planes to take over this airspace," Mazloum said. "Either you stop this bombing on our people now or move aside so we can let in the Russians."

Roebuck reportedly then suggested Mazloum not make any "immediate decisions," but instead give him time to relay the message to the State Department. Read more at CNN. Tim O'Donnell

November 25, 2018

Russia and Syrian state media have accused Syrian rebel fighters of responsibility for a gas attack that reportedly injured about 100 people in the city of Aleppo late Saturday. Rebel leaders denied the accusation, alleging the Bashar al-Assad regime is attempting to undercut ceasefire efforts, but Russia said Sunday it had retaliated with airstrikes.

Zaher Batal of the Aleppo Doctors Syndicate told Reuters gas attack victims, children among them, experienced symptoms including constrained breathing and eye inflammation. "We cannot know the kinds of gases but we suspected chlorine and treated patients on this basis because of the symptoms," he said.

This is the first gas attack on civilians in Aleppo, though chemical weapons have repeatedly been used elsewhere in Syria's grim civil war. Bonnie Kristian

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