On the front lines in Syria


NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: fighting in Syria.

It’s been almost four weeks since U.S. forces cleared out, followed by Turkey’s invasion. Last week, Ankara agreed to a ceasefire in a 19-mile wide zone that separates Syria from Turkey. But residents of Kurdish and Christian villages in the area say the bombing campaigns never stopped.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Dave Eubank is with Free Burma Rangers. It’s a humanitarian aid organization that works with pro-democracy groups in conflict zones around the world. Its medics have served alongside soldiers fighting ISIS in Iraq, as well as the final assault against the militant group in Syria earlier this year. It’s now providing relief and emergency medical care to people fleeing Turkey’s advance.

Dave Eubank joins us now with an update from the front lines.

Thanks for joining us today.

DAVE EUBANK, GUEST: Thank you, everyone at WORLD Magazine. I’ve been reading it for 10 years, I think, and it always educates and inspires me and I’m glad to be part of this. Glad you’re putting a light on the world.

REICHARD: Dave, let’s start with the ceasefire that we’ve heard so much about. You’ve made it really clear in your field reports that the Turkish offensive never stopped. Tell us what you’ve seen in the last week or so.

EUBANK: No, it hasn’t stopped. We’ve been here about two and a half weeks, right pretty much after the U.S. broke our promise and pulled out. And immediately the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian National Army, whatever they’re calling themselves, its proxies—the Turks—and the Turks invaded. And there’s not been any ceasefire even though there were two of them that were stated. There hasn’t been a day that we haven’t experienced the Free Syrian Army attacks with Turkish artillery and daily airstrikes from drones. The Turks and the Free Syrian Army are about 8 kilometers—or 5 miles—from where we are now.

REICHARD: I understand that the people fleeing violence there are calling this corridor along the border the “genocide zone.” Explain why that is.

EUBANK: Well, it’s a genocide zone because if you stay—especially if you’re a Kurd or a Christian—you’re going to die. That’s what they’ve experienced in the past and that’s what they firmly believe. So they fled. And they call it a genocide zone and I think that’s accurate. I think you could also call it ethnic cleansing zone. You could call it Turkish Invasion Zone. You can call it anything but a safe zone which is the most horrible, disingenuous—it’s worse than insulting because people are dying in it. Tonight, we evacuated two wounded and two dead and another person just died. They asked us to go pick them up, which means we have to go back up to the front lines and wiggle around at night. The last met ambulance, the enemy fired four RPG rounds at it. Four rockets and just missed it. And every time we try to move our vehicles to rescue our people, they’re going to shoot at you.

REICHARD: This is a complicated situation. Groups that were once fighting each other are now allied in the fight against a common enemy. So your medics have helped Syrian Army forces fighting alongside the Kurds, right? Tell us about that.

EUBANK: Well, when the uprising as Assad started, there was many rank and file normal people who stood up against Assad. They very soon became eclipsed by the different jihadist groups, such as al-Qaeda, al-Nusura, and then later ISIS. But in the eastern part of the country, the Kurds rose up and made a deal with Assad saying, look, we’re going to fight this eastern side—the eastern Euphrates—for you. In return, we want autonomy. Assad said fine. You do whatever you want. Just don’t let ISIS take over. Once the Americans pulled out, instantly the Kurds knew they would be slaughtered and their only hope was that the Syrian army would come in, which means the Kurds would trade away a lot of autonomy, a lot of their hard-won gains and freedoms, but to them, better than being slaughtered.

So the Syrian army shows up, but they thought they had a deal with the Turks that once they showed up, the Russians had brokered a deal saying that, ok, once the Syrians come, the Kurds will pull back the heavy weapons and the military, then the Turks will go back to the original border, the Syrians still occupy it, the Russians will run the interference in the middle. But what happened was they were instantly attacked by the Turks and the Free Syrian Army with tanks and artillery and drones. And the Syrians, thinking they had deal, came up with no armor. Just machine guns. And they’ve been steadily pushed back and slaughtered. I talked to a Syrian commander while we were treating his wounds and he was so frustrated. He said they sent us here to die. We thought we had an agreement in our own country the Turks wouldn’t keep attacking once we came. But that’s not the case.

And tonight as we were bringing the wounded back, we saw hundreds of Syrian troops lining the side of the road in retreat.

REICHARD: Final question, President Trump’s decision to bring American troops home from that area is something you and many others strongly oppose. But you say there’s a way forward, one that involves compromise with all sides. What do you mean by that?

EUBANK: Well, before I say that, I’m going to say this prayer, Lord Jesus, please help our president do the best and right thing right now and all of us do our part. In your name, Amen. It’s a tragic situation but I think the way forward, the first thing is to say we’re sorry. We made a big mistake. We’re sorry. Let’s start again. So we need to say we’re sorry for that and we need to say that we’re going to bring our troops back and we’re going to negotiate with the Syrian’s army and the Turks, who have legitimate concerns, and our allies and the Russians. And, most of all, with the Kurds and the Christians and the Muslims who actually live here, and say the safe zone will once again be the international border between Turkey and Syria and we will figure out a mechanism where there’s joint patrols of Russians, Americans, and Turks—whatever it takes—on that line. And everybody will go home to their original homes—but to negotiate with strength to push the border back where it belongs.

REICHARD: Straight talk. Dave Eubank is with Free Burma Rangers in Northern Syria. Thanks so much for joining us today.

EUBANK: Alright, God bless you.


(AP Photo) A convoy of Turkish backed Free Syria Army is about to cross into Turkey near the town of Azaz, Syria, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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