TEL TAMER, Syria – Many of the the Christians of the Khabur river region in northeast Syria took up arms in 2015 when ISIS invaded their homelands, driving most of their people abroad or massacring those who were left. The Syriac Military Council, trained by the U.S.-led Coalition for the fight against ISIS, has returned to protect the few dozen families in those villages against the incursion of rebels they see as no different than the jihadist group that oppressed and traumatized their people.
This time the sky is against them, Aram Hanna, a member of the general command of the Syriac Military Council (MFS), said in an interview at their base outside Tel Tamer on Thursday, November 14.
The few thousand Assyrian and Syriac fighters, who are part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, deployed earlier this month after Turkey-backed rebels fighting under the banner of the Syrian National Army began to move the frontline closer to the remaining villages along the border.
They struggle to hold the line or even reach civilians as Turkish warplanes and drones pick off their vehicles systemically. It’s a problem that has also kept humanitarian organizations in the area from reaching wounded and dead civilians.
Hanna is a veteran of battles against ISIS including in Manbij, Qamishli, and Ras al-Ayn (Serekaniye) in 2014.
“You can’t do anything against an airstrike,” he said.
The sky darkens as Hanna talks, but it’s not clear what’s from SDF fighters lightning fires to block out the sky, and what’s from Turkish airstrikes. The frontline was quieter early in the day while two Apache helicopters circled Tel Tamer as a U.S. convoy moved outside.