A humanitarian organization in northern Syria, the Free Burma Rangers, announced on Sunday the death of medic and cameraman Zau Seng.
He was killed by strike near a casualty collection post that both the group and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) attributed to Turkish forces and proxies.
The Turkish military invaded Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) in October with the aid of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a majority Arab collection of militias opposing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad that includes some jihadist elements. Ankara insisted that the invasion, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” was necessary to eradicate the alleged threat posed by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), a U.S.-allied anti-jihadist militia. The SDF is largely made up of YPG fighters.
Turkey reached an agreement two weeks ago with the government of Russia to stop attacking villages and cities that Russian troops agreed to secure so long as the SDF withdrew from those areas. The SDF has since reported that Turkish troops and the FSA, which it has dubbed “the new ISIS,” have continued their assault of Kurdish areas despite the Kurds’ adherence to the Russia-brokered agreement, targeting civilians.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated the goal of “Operation Peace Spring” is to eradicate indigenous Kurds from northern Syria and replace them with some of the 4 million mostly Arab Syrian refugees currently stranded in Turkey, an objective the SDF has noted fits the definition of “ethnic cleansing.” The operation has also significantly damaged the stability of Christian communities made up of internally displaced former residents of areas held hostage by the Islamic State.
The SDF, with aid from the United States, was responsible for the liberation of the city of Raqqa from the Islamic State and provided key intelligence leading to the capture and death of ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The Free Burma Rangers are a collective of humanitarian workers organized by former U.S. Army Special Forces member David Eubank, initially to organize relief operations in that country. Eubank, a vocal Christian, has stated that God later called his organization to serve in Kurdistan at the peak of the Islamic State’s colonization of Iraq and Syria.
Zau Seng was a Kachin medic and videographer working with Eubank in Rojava. The organization announced Sunday Seng “was killed today, Nov. 3., by a Free Syrian Army/Turkish Army mortar strike that hit our forward casualty collection point where we were assembled to treat the wounded.” Also wounded in the attack was a man identified as Mohammed, who Eubank described as an Iraqi translator for the group. Seng was filming the attack when he was hit by shrapnel and reportedly died instantly.
“This attack happened in the area that the Turks have invaded, about four kilometers north of Tel Tamir. The fighting continues and so we will continue providing medical care and telling the truth about what is happening here,” a statement from the group signed by Eubank read. “We will do our best to take care of Zau’s family and will continue to take care of Mohammed.”
Eubank also posted a video detailing the scene of the attack and honoring Seng for his extensive work helping civilians in conflict areas.
“He was hit by a Turk and Free Syrian Army proxy mortar or drone strike, we’re not really sure right now, while we were at our casualty collection point where we were gathering patients,” Eubank said. “We had already been treating patients. the day before we’d done a rescue, Zau was there. We’d been hit by tank fire, machine guns, and rockets and he filmed the whole thing. He was working on that film to send out to the world when he was hit.”
Right now, it hurts. But, with this pain, with this loss, we will keep shining a light, will keep sharing love, will keep helping as we can. All this, we want to do in honor of Zau and in memory of Zau. (Part 1 of 2 from our update from today, Nov. 4) pic.twitter.com/CpAWWy0j7u
— David Eubank (@DaveEubankFBR) November 4, 2019
“In this world, we all belong to God, we are all equally important. And I thank God though that, when we belong to God, we go to Heaven,” Eubank continued. So even though we’re missing him on this earth, because of God’s love, through Jesus, we’re going to be there with him. So right now it hurts, but with this pain, with this loss, we will keep shining a light, we’ll keep sharing love, we’ll keep helping as we can.”
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali confirmed Seng’s death and issued a statement on Twitter honoring him. Bali confirmed that the Turkish military targeted the post at which Seng and the Free Burma Rangers were working.
Just received terrible news of @FreeBurmaRangrs medic's death after their car tergeted by Turkish army near Til Temir. They have been bravely putting their lives on the line to help wounded here. I'm so sorry. RIP hero. @DaveEubankFBR
— Mustafa Bali (@mustefabali) November 3, 2019
The SDF press office issued a statement Sunday accusing Turkish forces of attacking six villages on Sunday and the “terrorist factions loyal to the Turkish invasion army” of attaching another four.
“Our forces, within the legitimate right of defense, responded to all attacks and killed a number of mercenaries of the invasion army and wounded many, we could not know the number,” the SDF noted. “As a result of battles and clashes during the 24 hours, our forces were able to kill more than 15 mercenaries and destroy two military vehicles and another vehicle.”
The Turkish defense ministry denied the strikes that killed Seng.
President Erdogan visited the Turkish-Syrian border on Sunday for a military briefing on how “Operation Peace Spring” is going. The defense ministry since accused the YPG of its own “terrorist attack” in Tal Abyad, claiming that the Kurds killed “at least 13 civilians.”
“We strongly condemn the inhumane attack of the bloody PKK/YPG terrorists who carried out a bomb attack against the innocent civilians of Tal Abyad who were able to return to their homes and lands as a result of ‘Operation Peace Spring’ and we call on all countries to take a stand against this brutal terror group,” the Defense Ministry said.
The Turkish government considers the YPG indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist group.