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For Days, Turkey Has Been Targeting Kurds In Northern Syria


And now we turn to Syria, where tens of thousands of people are fleeing their homes and humanitarian groups are warning of a major crisis. For several days now, Turkey has been targeting Kurdish towns near the border between the two countries after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces there. This morning, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told CBS's "Face The Nation" that Turkey's incursion into Syria might constitute, quote, "war crimes." There are reports of Turkish-backed Arab militias executing Kurds.

CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon joins us now from the Turkish-Syrian border. Good morning.

ARWA DAMON: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell us what you're seeing where you are.

DAMON: So we are on the Turkish side of the border, overlooking the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar that is effectively a ghost town because most people have fled because of incoming rounds from the Syrian side. Across from Ceylanpinar is the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ayn. And this is a crucial town in this offensive that is being carried out by Turkey and its Arab-Syrian partners on the ground. For the last few days, it has been pounded by artillery, and we're still seeing and hearing some rounds, some gunfire breaking out. Exactly who controls it at this point is under question.

But this town is also important because not too far from it is one of the smaller camps that hold people - civilians - who were previously displaced by the fight against ISIS that took place inside Syria. The majority of the Ras al-Ayn refugee camp population are civilians who are not affiliated with ISIS, but there is an annex within that camp that has hundreds of families who are among those who stayed until the very last moment of the battles with ISIS. It does have some family members and children who are foreign. And so this is one of the concerns.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is all taking place after President Trump pulled U.S. forces out of that part of Syria, essentially withdrawing support from Kurdish forces who have been longtime allies in the fight against ISIS. Turkey sees the Kurds as enemies. How is this battle unfolding?

DAMON: This is not the first time that the U.S. has betrayed or abandoned the Kurds. It's happened before in Iraq. From Turkey's perspective, the Syrian Kurdish fighting force, the YPG, that was America's main ally on the ground in the fight against ISIS in Syria is basically one and the same as the Kurdish separatist militant group, the PKK, that has been fighting the Turkish state for decades now. And the...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And they see them as terrorists.

DAMON: They do because the YPG is an offshoot of the PKK. So from Turkish perspective, this is all about Turkish national security.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just briefly - you know, you mentioned the civilians that are trapped in the middle of all this in Syria, people who have been displaced within Syria from previous battles and are basically living in these encampments. What are people telling you about this latest turn of events, and where do these people go? There's not a lot of choices for them.

DAMON: No, there's not a lot of choice, and there's been no preparation for them, keeping in mind that, you know, the area of northern Syria that this is unfolding in was barely able to manage the refugee population that was there already. The conditions in these camps are horrendous. They don't have enough access to clean water. They don't have access to proper medical care. And now on top of it, some of them, at least, are going to end up being in the middle of a war zone as the Turks push forward.

Now, Turkey has promised that it will take over monitoring and controlling the ISIS camps and the ISIS prison. And that is a massive undertaking for any army or any entity, not to mention that a number of these prisons and camps are much further into northern Syrian territory than the Turks initially intend to push in. So there is nowhere for these populations to go, whether it's populations that have been already displaced or populations that are being displaced.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon. Thank you so much.

DAMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.