Life and death in Syria as US troops withdraw: ‘We don’t trust America anymore’


In Qamishli, an 8-year-old named Sara was lying in a hospital bed, enduring unimaginable pain after losing her leg in an artillery shell explosion.

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“My daughter is hurting and in pain in front of me,” her mother told ABC News. “I can’t bear to hear her cry.”

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Sara and her brother Ahmed lost their brother Mohammed, who was just 13, in an artillery explosion.

This family’s country of Syria has been engulfed by eight years of bloody conflict — but this part of the country had been largely spared until last week, when U.S. troops departed, leaving a growing humanitarian crisis in their wake.

Sara’s devastated family said she’d only just realized the full horror of what happened to her. For a little girl so fond of dressing up, losing her leg was a devastating moment.

That was just one of the huge losses this family is suffering. The blast also killed Sara’s older brother Mohammed. He was just 13 years old.

“I’ve lost so much. I can’t bear to lose any more than this,” her mother said.

PHOTO: Sara lost her leg in an artillery shell explosion.Obtained by ABC News
Sara lost her leg in an artillery shell explosion.

From her hospital bed, Sara clung to her mother and cried out for her other brother Ahmed, who was also injured.

Ahmed tearfully told how he’d tried reviving his brother.

“I told him, ‘Get up, Get up,’ and he didn’t,” he said.

PHOTO: The blast also killed Saras older brother Mohammed. He was just 13 years old.Obtained by ABC News
The blast also killed Sara’s older brother Mohammed. He was just 13 years old.

This is the real impact of this war — families grieving, kids torn apart while playing in the street. An entire community has been left helpless and abandoned.

The family begged for further treatment for their severely injured child, but they were right on the border of Turkey, which could be occupied at any moment.

It was no longer a question of whether she could get more treatment, but whether the family could get out alive.

It’s only been 10 days since President Donald Trump made the sudden decision to withdraw Americans from the Northern Syrian border. Trump later revealed that it was just 28 U.S. troops holding the line between peace and war.

The decision to withdraw opened the door for Turkey to launch a military campaign against Kurdish forces in Syria, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF.

The United States is allied with both sides — Turkey is an important NATO member, while the Kurdish military has been the U.S. most reliable partner in the war against ISIS. Kurdish soldiers have done most of the fighting and almost all of the dying. However, Turkey regards the Kurds as terrorists and has vowed to force them out of the area.

On Wednesday, an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the House approved a non-binding resolution opposing the withdrawal from Syria.

Two years ago, ABC News was in Syria as Kurdish forces made the final push to retake the city of Raqqa, the former capital of the ISIS caliphate.

Sozdar Bawer was there. She was a young leader in the YPG, a mainly Kurdish fighting force.

“If there is no determination on the ground, there will be no progress,” Bawer said in 2017.

PHOTO: Sozdar Bawer team helped defeat ISIS in Raqqa -- street to street, building to building while death was always a step away. More than 11,000 Kurdish men and women died in the war. Bawer was one of them.Obtained by ABC News
Sozdar Bawer team helped defeat ISIS in Raqqa — street to street, building to building while death was always a step away. More than 11,000 Kurdish men and women died in the war. Bawer was one of them.

Her team helped defeat ISIS in Raqqa — street to street, building to building while death was always a step away. More than 11,000 Kurdish men and women died in the war. Bawer was one of them.

She was killed in an ISIS ambush just hours after she spoke with ABC News that day. Her grief-stricken family was left behind to mourn her loss.

This week, ABC News met with her relatives in al-Malikiyah, where the family keeps a shrine to her in its home.

PHOTO: ABC News met with Sozdars relatives in al-Malikiyah, where the family keeps a shrine to her in its home.ABC
ABC News met with Sozdar’s relatives in al-Malikiyah, where the family keeps a shrine to her in its home.

Bawer was the eldest of the family’s nine children. Her sister Naila is a beautiful mirror image of her.

“She’s always with us. Even after she became a martyr, she’s still with us,” Naila told ABC News. “She is every day in the house.”

PHOTO: Sozdar Bawer was the eldest of the familys nine children. Her sister Naila is a beautiful mirror image of her.ABC
Sozdar Bawer was the eldest of the family’s nine children. Her sister Naila is a beautiful mirror image of her.

Bawer’s mission to defeat ISIS is one her family is carrying on. Her brother, Simko, is also a leader in the YPG.

“We loved each other,” he said. “We spent a lot of time together, at home and on the front lines. Honestly, Sozdar was the light of our lives and a role model to everyone.”

“Everywhere Sozdar went, she strived for women’s freedom and the freedom of our nation,” Simko added. “Sozdar has a dream and her death was very hard for us to take.”

For years, Simko and his fellow soldiers depended on U.S. military support and air power.

PHOTO: Sozdar Bawers mission to defeat ISIS is one her family is carrying on. Her brother, Simko, is also a leader in the YPG.ABC
Sozdar Bawer’s mission to defeat ISIS is one her family is carrying on. Her brother, Simko, is also a leader in the YPG.

Russia is now filling the void left by the U.S., helping the Syrian military to back the Kurds. The Syrian Democratic Forces is now aligning with Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which is accused of war crimes against its own people.

“Without an agreement between Russia and Syria, we would have been wiped out and everyone knows it,” Simko said. “America will never again be able to count on the Kurds to fight ISIS. We don’t trust America anymore. If we hadn’t seen it, we wouldn’t have believed it.”

“For the rest of our lives and the lives of our grandchildren, America will always be a traitor,” he continued.

Naila and Simko showed ABC News their sister’s grave on the edge of al-Malikiyah, which is marked “Sehid,” meaning martyr.

In this cemetery, every single tombstone, marking the final resting place of volunteers like Bawer, is marked the same.

PHOTO: Naila and Simko showed ABC News their sisters grave on the edge of al-Malikiyah, which is marked Sehid, meaning martyr. In this cemetery, every single tombstone, marking the final resting place of volunteers like Bawer, is marked the same.
ABC
Naila and Simko showed ABC News their sister’s grave on the edge of al-Malikiyah, which is marked “Sehid,” meaning martyr. In this cemetery, every single tombstone, marking the final resting place of volunteers like Bawer, is marked the same.

If she were alive today, Naila said, her sister would have “lost trust in America.”

“Sozdar was always on the front lines. She was a capable and seasoned fighter,” she said. “America is responsible for these children being killed.”

Now, the White House is deflecting blame for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and calling for a ceasefire.

“Our soldiers are not in harm’s way — as they shouldn’t be — as two countries fight over land that has nothing to do with us,” Trump said Wednesday, even though many American soldiers still remain in the country and are attempting to find safe passage out between the battling factions.

Trump announced sanctions against Turkey on Monday. And on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to broker a deal.

But Erdogan so far has been defiant, saying he won’t sign a ceasefire agreement. His tanks and troops are crossing the border and advancing on the Syrian city of Manbij.

Turkey has deployed radical Islamic militias — some, offshoots of al Qaeda. Those groups have been seen on video committing gruesome roadside executions.

In one video, leading Kurdish political leader Hervin Khalaf was dragged from her car and shot 23 times. If the video is verified, her slaying will be a war crime — as is the targeting of civilians.

The Kurdish military gave ABC News video of a convoy packed with people that, they say, was hit by a Turkish airstrike. Their bodies and lives were shredded in an instant.

The line between allies and enemies is moving dangerously fast, but not everyone has the option to seek safer ground.

Kamiran Sadoun, a Syrian journalist and ABC News producer, said his parents didn’t know he was working in Northern Syria.

“They would be so afraid,” he said. “This is my job, so I will just stay here … We don’t have any plans.”

PHOTO: Kamiran Sadoun, a Syrian journalist and ABC News producer, said his parents didn’t know he was working in Northern Syria.ABC
Kamiran Sadoun, a Syrian journalist and ABC News producer, said his parents didn’t know he was working in Northern Syria.

Neither does the family of that little girl who lost her leg. Sara’s father said he wants to leave their shattered home, and the neighborhood that used to be safe, but he said there’s nowhere else to go.

Right now, the family is focusing on just keeping Sara alive and distracting her from her pain.



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