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Turkey cont'd

Nine months earlier, in December 2018, Donald announced that the United States was going to pull 2,000 troops from Syria — a proclamation that came as such an offense to some high in his government that two of them resigned (Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Special Presidential Envoy to the Coalition Fighting the Islamic State Brett McGurk). The primary reason for the adamant dissent was the immense danger our faithful allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), would face if America abruptly left Syria.

Thankfully, Donald was talked out of this monumentally terrible idea and around 1,000 U.S. Special Operations forces remained.

Fast forward to that boring October Sunday in the White House.  In typical schizophrenic fashion, Donald Trump again announced that U.S. forces would withdraw from the border between Syria and Turkey — an out of the blue, unilateral announcement that, without question, is one of the single most ill-informed, irresponsible, and shameful foreign policy failures of Donald Trump’s presidency (and that’s saying something).

It cannot be overstated what an amateur move this was.  Clearly, Donald Trump knew nothing about the situation on the ground in Syria and cared about nothing more than making his role-model Erdoğan happy, which he certainly did by handing Erdoğan exactly what he had always longed for — American allies and soldiers be damned.

Donald Trump’s Sunday Surprise also gave Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian and Russian allies — who had already proven they would go to any lengths necessary to regain total control of Syria — free rein to continue committing mass murder and other vicious war crimes.

But, BY FAR, the absolute worst — and most heartbreaking — part of this insanely irresponsible decision was the danger our loyal allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces, were immediately put in by Donald Trump.

It’s impossible to imagine how betrayed they felt by his actions. It's sickening to think that our beloved United States of America could do this to such dedicated and faithful allies. To make matters worse, U.S. troops were standing right next to SDF forces when they all learned of Donald Trump’s decision, placing our service members squarely in the crosshairs of an incredibly hostile and dangerous situation.  The entire episode is just outrageous.

Almost immediately — and entirely predictably — the Islamic State started murdering local SDF leaders, and within three days, Turkey launched air and ground operations against them. To protect themselves — and given pretty much no other choice by the United States — the SDF, one of the most loyal allies America has even known, was soon forced to announce a partnership with the Russian and Iran -backed government in Damascus.

To add insult to injury, over 100 highly trained, highly dangerous ISIS fighters being held by the SDF escaped, an outcome that SDF leadership had long warned of in the event of a Turkish invasion.

Well, our fellow Americans, by this point in the Trump presidency we all could have guessed where this was leading.  After creating colossal chaos, his specialty, Donald Trump — under enormous domestic pressure and international outrage — suddenly changed his mind and reversed course yet again.

Within two months of his October troop-withdrawal announcement, the U.S. military had resumed large-scale counterterrorism missions against the Islamic State in northern Syria…but not before Syria and Russia, emboldened by America’s whiplash strategy, initiated brutal attacks in the northern province of Idlib, an area located on the Turkish border in northwest Syria.

This out-and-out slaughter of innocent civilians eventually led to the displacement of over 100,000 people. This, in addition to the over 5 million Syrians who had already been forced to leave the country and the more than 6 million who were already internally displaced.

Although there had been a long-standing truce between Turkey and Russia that would ostensibly protect Idlib (signed in 1992, called the Sochi agreement), the almost three-decade truce was shattered when Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, attacked, prompting Assad, with help from Russia, to resume bombing everyone and everything in sight. Thankfully, Turkey and Russia reached a new ceasefire agreement in March 2019.  However, the Syrian and Russian reign of terror within Syria didn’t slow down one bit. Amnesty International reports:

“The Syrian government, backed by its ally Russia, subjected civilians in opposition-held areas in northwest Syria to a new wave of horrors.  In an all-too-familiar pattern, attacks from the air and the ground repeatedly struck residential areas and crucial infrastructure. Yet even by the standards of this calamitous nine-year crisis, the resulting displacement and humanitarian emergency were unprecedented. 

In towns and villages in Idlib and western Aleppo governorates, the barrage of attacks emptied out entire communities; the escalation was evidently a continuation of an offensive that began in April 2019 targeting the last pocket under the control of armed opposition groups. Cornered, and with nowhere left to go, civilians flooded already overstretched displacement camps, pitched tents in farms and schools, or ended up in the open in brutal weather.

Amnesty International documented a total of 18 attacks on medical facilities and schools that happened between May 5, 2019 and February 25, 2020 in Idlib, northwestern Hama and western Aleppo governorates. Of those, Syrian government forces carried out three ground attacks and two-barrel bomb attacks.  The remaining 13 attacks were air strike attacks: two by Syrian government forces, seven by Russian government forces, and four by Syrian or Russian government forces.

A doctor who survived one of the documented attacks — three air strikes in the vicinity of al-Shami hospital in Ariha on January 29, 2020 — told Amnesty International how the strikes flattened at least two residential buildings around the hospital, killed 11 civilians including one of his colleagues, and injured more than 30 others. ‘I felt so helpless. My friend and colleague dying, children and women screaming outside… We were all paralyzed,’ he said.  ‘It took the civil defense two days to remove the bodies’ from underneath the rubble of one the flattened buildings, he added.

Based on corroborating witness statements and other credible information, particularly observations by flight spotters, Amnesty International concluded this unlawful attack was carried out by Russian government forces.  A teacher who witnessed an attack on a school in Idlib city on February 25, 2020 described to Amnesty International how a cluster munition explosion injured her and killed a student before her eyes.  As soon as she had finished teaching the first period that day, the principal ordered everyone to evacuate the school due to a wave of attacks on the city. 

She and others who evacuated were walking past another nearby school when it was hit by a cluster munition.  ‘A bomblet exploded close to my feet, blowing the flesh off… The pain was unbearable… Two students were walking in front of me. One died instantly and the other one, miraculously, survived… I know the sound of a cluster munition attack very well. You hear a series of small explosions. As if the sky were raining shrapnel instead of water,’ she said.  In total, three people were killed, and five others injured.

Amnesty International concluded this unlawful attack was carried out by Syrian government forces; it identified the remnant as a surface-fired, 220mm 9M27K cargo rocket, manufactured in Russia and transferred to the Syrian army, containing 9N210 or 9N235 cluster munitions, which are prohibited under international law.

Evidence shows that, in their entirety, the documented attacks by Syrian and Russian government forces entailed a myriad of serious violations of international humanitarian law.  To name a few, the attacks were not directed at a specific military object and they violated the immunity from direct attack of civilians and civilian objects, as well as the special protection afforded to specific persons and objects, particularly medical facilities, medical personnel and children.

These violations amount to war crimes.  The attacks must also be viewed in the context of the well-established pattern of Syrian government forces targeting civilian infrastructure and civilians in areas under the control of armed opposition groups as part of a widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population, therefore constituting crimes against humanity.”

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