Looming Turkish invasion of northern Syria after US withdrawal raises fears for Kurdish-Australian with family on border
Oct. 08, 2019
Friends and family of Kurds living near Syria's border with Turkey are nervously watching on to see what happens next, after the withdrawal of US troops from the area heightened fears of an invasion.
Northern border towns have been left particularly vulnerable by the the White House's announcement on Sunday that the US would no longer have troops in the area .
Ismet Tastan has lived in Australia for 15 years, but still has cousins, uncles, aunties and great grandparents living in the border town of Kobane, which was at the centre of numerous conflicts between the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia and Islamic State militants (IS).
Mr Tastan, who is co-president of the Democratic Kurdish Federation of Australia, said he was scared by what a Turkish invasion could mean for people in those towns.
"They're going to take all our land, they're going to use violence against the community, especially against children and women," the 40-year-old Sydney resident said.
It is difficult to stay in touch with people in the area because of patchy internet and mobile connection, but Mr Tastan said he has spoken to a few of his family and friends recently.
"They are really very concerned that when the Turkish armies come there's going to be a massacre of civilians," he said.
"There's going to be a big refugee crisis again."
US owes Kurds 'an enormous strategic debt'
The YPG was an important ally to the US in bringing the caliphate to an end, and Mr Tastan said the decision by Donald Trump's administration to remove US support of Kurdish forces was another case of the Kurds' contribution to the defeat of IS being forgotten or ignored.
There are many fighting forces in the north made up of women , and Mr Tastan is particularly concerned about the treatment they could receive.
He believes if Turkey was to take control of the border, IS would rise again and the democratic society built in the region would be "destroyed".
"First thing they will try to do is destroy the women in society," he said.
"We'd like to call on all the international community … to stand up for these brave girls.
"They fight for all of us, not only for Kurds."
Recently retired US general Michael Nagata, who helped train and equip the Kurdish forces to fight IS in Syria, said the US owed the Kurds "an enormous strategic debt".
Photo The withdrawal of US troops "is an enormous strategic gift for the Islamic State", according to an ex-US general.
"The Kurds in northern Syria who make up the Syrian Democratic Forces have literally fought a major campaign on behalf of the United States and the international coalition," he told PM.
General Nagata agreed the re-emergence of IS was a likely outcome of the US withdrawal.
"This is an enormous strategic gift for the Islamic State," he said.
"If I were an ISIS leader ... I'd be telling everyone that followed me, 'We've certainly taken and had to absorb a huge amount of damage because of coalition operations over the last four years, but the withdrawal of the Americans and the violence in Iraq is a strategic opportunity for us'.
"The best estimates that I've seen, numerically, is their still larger overall than Al Qaeda in Iraq was in its heyday."
Concerns over refugee camp in north-east Syria
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said any Turkish military action could lead to a mass breakout at the al-Hawl refugee camp, home to more than 60 Australian women and children , in north-eastern Syria.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told the ABC prisoners could be freed to join sympathisers of the extremist group and recreate another IS caliphate.
Photo The al-Hawl camp has been described as "one of the worst places in the world to be a child".
Kamalle Dabboussy, the father of one of the women living in the camp, has urged the Australian Government to rescue the Australians as soon as possible .
"There hasn't actually yet been any action and they aren't that close, so any action taking place may still allow the immediate area's safety for some time," he said.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said while Australia remained concerned about their welfare, repatriation would only take place if it does not put government officials or forces at risk.
The EU warned that a military operation in north-east Syria would lead to the "massive displacement" of refugees and risked "severely undermining" political efforts aimed at ending Syria's eight-year-old conflict.
Mat Tinkler from Save the Children Australia said the camp was "one of the worst places in the world to be a child".
He added: "The Kurdish administration of these camps represents the best available window to bring these systems home to safety.
"With the news that the US will withdraw its forces that window is rapidly closing. We urge the Australian Government to urgently move the Australian children and women in the camps to safety, with a view to repatriating them.
"There are more than 40 Australian children in the camps — most under the age of 5 — who have lived through conflict, bombardment and acute deprivation. These children are innocent victims of the conflict and must be treated as such. They, along with the Australian women, must be moved to safety as an immediate priority."
Australian Government monitoring 'rapidly evolving situation'
Mr Tastan wants a no-fly zone to be established over northern Syria, and is calling on the Australian Government to make a public statement condemning Turkey.
Earlier on Tuesday, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said the Australia Government was "very aware of what's been happening".
"It is too early yet to speculate on the consequences this might have for Australian policy in the region ... as it is a very rapidly evolving, new situation," she said.
"So we will continue to monitor and act accordingly when we have more information to hand."
Acting Opposition Leader Richard Marles echoed the Government's call for restraint from all parties in the "very complex situation" and said Labor had requested a briefing on the situation.
"It is so important that as the days and weeks play out from here that we do not see the next chapter begin of Syria's misery," he said.
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