The White House’s spiraling Syria crisis took another turn for the worse on Saturday, when Hevrin Khalaf, along with her driver and an aide, were killed along a highway near Hasaka.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (which are led by the Kurdish YPG, America’s staunchest ally in the fight against ISIS in the country) said militia backed by Turkey ambushed Khalaf as she was coming back from a meeting. A total of six civilians were reportedly killed in the incident.
The Turkey-backed National Army denied that it was responsible. There is, unfortunately, a video circulating on social media that appears to show Khalaf dead. There are also numerous images and videos of the bullet-riddled Toyota SUV in which she was riding. Here’s Rudaw’s account:
A senior Kurdish politician in northeastern Syria was killed by an as of yet undetermined party as fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces continues. The political wing of Kurdish-led forces in the area have since claimed her killers were “Turkish-backed” mercenaries.
Rudaw’s reporter in Qamishli said initial indications were that her car was hit by Turkish forces. The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria, also blamed Turkey for her death.
On Saturday evening, the SDC claimed Khalaf and her driver had been “executed” by Turkish-backed forces.
“She was taken out of her car during a Turkish-backed attack and executed by Turkish backed mercenary factions on the International Road between Qamishlo and Manbij, where her driver who was also martyred,” the SDC statement said.
However, the Syrian Kurdish outlet ANHA, which is tied to the main Kurdish group in the SDF, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), said Islamic State militants were responsible.
Khalaf’s death has been confirmed by Hawar, Reuters, The New York Times and AP.
This is highly unfortunate. Khalaf was the secretary general of the Future Syria Party. Her execution seemingly constitutes a war crime and will doubtlessly elicit outrage from many corners.
In a despicable post, Yeni Åžafa celebrated her demise.
Brett McGurk, the former presidential envoy to the global coalition to counter ISIL, who resigned after Jim Mattis in December, was incredulous.
“Turkish state-backed media hails a ‘successful operation’ to ‘neutralize’ an unarmed 35-year old woman working to unite Arabs, Christians, and Kurds in northeast Syria”, he said. “Ms. Khalef was reportedly dragged from a vehicle and shot to death”.
As if that’s not heinous enough, Turkey-backed Arab fighters appear to have executed at least two captives on a roadside. One of them was handcuffed and lying down. The following video is not pleasant.
As the Turkey-backed fighters fired, their compatriots shouted “God is great!” Here’s Rudaw describing the scene:
“Allahu Akbar, film me, film me,” one of the fighters shouts as he empties his AK-47 into the supine body of a man as dust rises from the ground. Another appears with a sniper rifle and shoots the man. “The pigs of the party,” another one shouts, referring to the main political party in northern Syria, the Democratic Union Party.
The captive wearing fatigues who can be seen at the very beginning of the video was also killed. In a subsequent social media post by the group, he is conspicuously absent.
This all happened after Turkey and its allied Syrian fighters took control of the Syrian border town Ras al-Ain, and were said to be preparing to mount an offensive against Tel Abyad.
“The two captives were killed early Saturday after the militant group Ahrar al-Sharqiyeh, which had entered Syria from Turkey, took control of a main road through the territory and began stopping passing cars”, The New York Times writes, citing a local media activist. “When military vehicles belonging to the Kurdish-led militia passed, the militants stopped them, at times getting into clashes”.
It was on that main road that Khalaf was killed.
Most of these events were captured in a series of videos, all of which are still available on Twitter and other platforms.
Pressure on the Trump administration will now ratchet materially higher. On Friday, Steve Mnuchin said the president had granted the Treasury authority to sanction officials in Ankara, and Republicans on Capitol Hill are furious at Trump’s rash decision to pull US troops away from YPG positions.
More than 100,000 people have now been displaced in the violence that ensued after Trump told Recep Tayyip Erdogan last Sunday that the US would withdraw a relative handful of special operators who had previously deterred a Turkish offensive.
On Friday, the Turkish military accidentally shelled US forces operating in Kobani.
The international community is beginning to act, albeit slowly. Germany on Saturday banned arms exports to Turkey citing Erdogan’s offensive, which has now killed hundreds. The death toll for the SDF is at 45 and counting. Iran, meanwhile, is offering to mediate.
Khalaf’s Future Syria Party was established in March of 2018. As Rudaw writes, “its founding congress took place in Raqqa”, the former de facto ISIS capital. The party’s slogan is “a democratic, pluralistic and decentralized Syria”.
Hussein Omar, the party’s coordinator in Europe, told Reuters that Khalaf had met US officials on visits to the region. “The Americans have been in constant contact with this party up until now”, he said.