The Free Burma Rangers, more commonly referred to as FBR, are an NGO known for commitment to giving medical aid and support to oppressed communities in some of the most dangerous conflict zones in the world. People familiar with FBR will usually be quick to tell you with awe and disbelief about FBR’s feats of love and service in countries like Burma, Iraq, Syria and Sudan. FBR is comprised mostly of relief team members from the different ethnic states of Burma, whose training and missions in Burma are supported by a smaller staff of Western volunteers (who come primarily from the US). The Middle East mission teams are a mix of team members from Burma and western volunteers. All FBR teams, no matter what the mission, are willing to go where most other NGO’s wont.
Led by Dave Eubank, former US Army Special Forces and Ranger officer, FBR is known for entering active conflict zones and giving aid to the people affected on the front line. This includes soldiers, civilians, refugees and IDP’s. The work is dangerous. But where there is danger and destruction, there is always a need for help and support. And that is where the FBR team does their best work.
Last month, I accompanied FBR on a mission through Rojava, Syria. The main goal of this mission was to remind friends of FBR in Syria that FBR, and, more importantly, God have not forgotten them. Another key goal was to show the people of Rojava that FBR will continue to help them and be a voice for them on the international stage. On the mission, the team traveled through villages and towns in Rojava and met with different leadership groups like the Syriac Military Council and Raqqa Civil Council, gave aid to IDP’s who escaped from Idlb to SDF controlled areas like the city of Manbij, supported those displaced by the recent Turkish incursion into northeaster Syria, and even organized and led a visit from Louisiana Congressman Ralph Abraham, who himself is determined to share with US leadership the real cost of pulling troops out of Northeastern Syria and note what the people of Rojava need from the US as they face a continuing threat of Turkish attacks.
The situation throughout Syria is volatile. Turkey is threatening to open their borders for refugees in Turkey to cross into Europe if Erdogan doesn’t receive NATO support for their war in Syria. Yet, ironically, Turkish attacks in northeastern Syria have created over 200,000 Syrian IDP’s. Leaders in Iraq, especially one’s affiliated with Iran, are pressuring the SDF to surrender to and join Assad forces, yet that will lead to potential arrests of SDF leaders by the regime, and an end to the democratic system in Rojava. Trump has made claims that he will never allow Turkey to take Kobane, yet rumors continually spread of Erdogan’s plan to attack and take Kobane. No one knows how the US would react to this direct affront.
In western Syria, the fighting due to the Assad regime’s Russian backed attempt to retake Idlib is continuing to create more IDP’s each week. Since December, the continual bombing and fighting in Idlib have displaced nearly one million people.
It is unclear what the future of Syria holds. But it is very clear that we are entering a new era of war in Syria. The threat is no longer just ISIS or Assad’s totalitarian regime. Turkey seems relentless in their pursuit to expand their borders in Syria, supporting extremist Islamist groups and using heavy artillery and shelling to fight the regime and SDF forces. The US has pulled out of most areas in Northeastern Syria, except for oil fields in the far eastern region of Rojava. And Russian and Regime troops are quick to fill the holes that the American forces have left. Although the future feels grim, there are beacons of hope for democracy and freedom in Syria. When asked about the future of Syria, Dave Eubank has a hopeful idea of what can help the Syrian people:
“We want the US to be engaged in Northeast Syria more. We want them to, by whatever means, make the Free Syrian Army, who are supported by Turkey, to go back to the Syrian Turkish border so people can go home. We want to continue the old policy. The US had a strategic policy to defeat ISIS, which is very difficult to do without a cohesive Northeast Syria. Defeat ISIS, stop any bad influence such as Iran, which takes our presence, and work for democratic change in Syria. You have this democracy emergent in Northeast Syria - you’ve already got it! Don’t throw it away. Build it up, and then, at minimum, you’ll have this small piece of democracy that is a light for everybody else. But maybe it will spread. So I think that it’s important that the US reengages. And pray for these people too.”
Seeing Rojava and meeting with IDP’s fighting for their lives in the region, it is very easy to feel hopeless for the situation. However, The Free Burma Rangers have shown, by entering the most dangerous areas in Syria at the most dangerous times, that there is hope for the people of Syria. FBR believes that the lives of these vulnerable Syrians are just as valuable as American lives, as their own lives - and so they put their lives on the line, side-by-side with the people they are helping, to stand with them and help them in their struggle against oppression. This is only possible through love - and it is only this love, God’s love working in people’s hearts, that will bring real change in Syria.