AMUDE/QAMISHLI, Syria — The Turkish drone hung silently in the late night sky, shining its light on a nameless hamlet close to a Russian military base south of Amude. The Turks usually targeted vehicles carrying military personnel. But they were ordinary people and had no reason to worry, thought Ronak Mohammed as she, her husband, Munir, and her brother Ciwan piled into the family car. Within minutes, the white Hyundai erupted in flames, shuddering violently as shrapnel and broken glass flew everywhere.
"The drone stayed there for an hour and a half after it dropped its bomb," Mohammed recalled, as she sat stricken on the floor of her family home in Amude, her face swathed in bandages and her eyes filled with fear. Munir, who was driving, also survived the Nov. 23 drone strike with minor injuries. The couple had been married for a month. However, 35-year-old Ciwan, who sat in the passenger seat, succumbed to his wounds in the hospital, adding to the swelling list of civilians who have died in Turkey's ongoing military campaign against Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria. "Why did they do this?" she asked.
Turkey has long claimed that the Kurdish-led administration in northeast Syria and its military arm pose a threat to its national security because of their links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and has since 2016 mounted three major ground offensives against the Kurdish-led zone occupying large swathes of territory. The escalation began after the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ended peace talks with the PKK and with it a two-and-a-half-year-long mutually observed cease-fire, during which Syrian Kurdish leaders would frequently travel to Ankara as part of an envisaged deal that would incorporate Syria’s Kurds as well.
The United States’ military intervention in 2014 against the Islamic State (ISIS) on the side of the Syrian Kurds was a key factor in upending the talks as age-old Turkish fears of the United States’ purported agenda of creating an independent Kurdish state that would include large chunks of Turkey’s Kurdish majority southeast resurfaced. Turkey has since been ensuring, as it sees things, to disrupt any such plans through a combination of military, diplomatic and economic pressure, including the targeted assassinations of alleged PKK operatives by Turkey’s national intelligence agency, MIT.