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5-Day Truce Between Turkish And Kurdish Forces Expires Tuesday


Five days - that was what Turkey had agreed to - a pause in the fighting with Kurds across the border in Syria. That pause is part of an agreement between the U.S. and Turkey. But it was President Trump who greenlit the removal of U.S. troops from the border, opening the door for the Turkish attacks in the first place. President Trump said he was removing U.S. troops and, quote, "bringing them home." But now his secretary of defense says those troops are not coming back to the U.S. Instead, they're redeploying to Iraq, where thousands of Kurdish civilians are now looking for safety. NPR's Jane Arraf joins us from a refugee camp in northwest Iraq. Jane, good morning. Can you just start off - just describe where you are, exactly, and what you're seeing. What does it look like? What does it sound like?

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Yeah, we're at the Bardarash refugee camp. It's about a hundred miles east of the Syrian border. And right now we're on this road where trucks are coming through. It's a gravel road, and it's surrounded by wire fences. On one side of the fence, there are people selling fruit and selling snacks. And on the other side, there are refugees crowding there. And I'm in front of a line where there are people lined up to register. There have been almost 4,000 refugees who have come so far. So they're fleeing, of course, the fighting. But also, they don't believe in that cease-fire agreement. And, in fact, there are some who believe the cease-fire agreement doesn't actually end until tomorrow. So there's a lot of confusion over that. The Syrian-Kurdish forces have pulled out from a key town. But still, there are more steps to be taken.

MARTIN: What - I imagine you're hearing all kinds of stories from those people who don't believe the cease-fire is real. What are they telling you about their own personal circumstances?

ARRAF: Absolutely heartbreaking - almost unimaginable - there was one woman who had arrived with her four children. One of them had barely any clothes. She said they had walked for hours to get to the border. And they actually came from Ras al-Ayn, which is that key border town that Syrian Kurdish forces withdrew from. She has been displaced several times, like most of the people here. There was another woman who arrived with her child who was injured in a landmine. There are just all sorts of stories from years of displacement. And we spoke to a UNHCR official, Ayman Gharaibeh, who says that, you know, they prepared for a lot of different things, but it's really hard to prepare for this.

AYMAN GHARAIBEH: What you see right now in this camp is really our best-case scenario - just 5,000, maybe a few other thousands. But the worst-case scenario would be much bigger numbers than this. So, yet again, we're confronted with a situation that brings us back to square one - a new camp and a new flight from Syria.

MARTIN: No doubt, as they get ready for more and more refugees who are coming in. So, Jane, I want to ask you now - I referenced it in the introduction, but U.S. troops who were supposed to be, quote, "coming home," according to President Trump, are now going to Iraq? What can you tell us?

ARRAF: Yeah. Yeah (laughter). There's that. So this is part of the withdrawal of U.S. troops. It was a large convoy of forces announced by the U.S. military, and they were out this morning. They crossed the border, left a base near the Turkish border, arrived in Erbil, a Kurdish city in Iraq. There are dozens of armored vehicles. They're destined, according to the U.S. defense secretary, to go to a base in western Iraq - a pre-existing base where, he says, they will continue to fight ISIS.

MARTIN: Any idea how they're going to be received, I mean, given that the Kurds see the U.S. forces of having abandoned them in Syria?

ARRAF: Well, this whole thing has left a lot of allies and former allies and would-be allies thinking they can't really trust the United States. So it doesn't mean they won't continue to work with them. Iraqi forces - Iraqi military certainly will. Kurdish forces have to. But it's certainly removed a lot of the trust that was there.

MARTIN: NPR's Jane Arraf. Thanks, Jane.

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

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.