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Syria Today – Turkish Strikes Disrupt Water and Electricity Supply in NE Syria; 19 U.S. Soldiers Diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injuries

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.

Over the span of October 5 to 10, 2023, the Turkish Armed Forces conducted drone strikes in northeast Syria, targeting Kurdish-held areas and resulting in significant harm to crucial water and electricity infrastructure. Simultaneously, in Iraq and Syria, 19 U.S. troops were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries in the aftermath of recent attacks.

Turkish Drone Strikes Disrupt Water and Electricity Supply in Northeast Syria, Amplifying Humanitarian Crisis

 Recent drone strikes by the Turkish Armed Forces on Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria, occurring between October 5 and 10, 2023, have caused severe damage to vital infrastructure. This has resulted in a significant disruption in the supply of water and electricity to millions of people in the region, exacerbating an already dire humanitarian crisis. Human Rights Watch has raised concerns over these attacks, emphasizing the need for Turkey to halt its targeting of critical infrastructure essential for the well-being and rights of local residents.

The Turkish drone strikes, which targeted more than 150 locations across the governorates of al-Hasakeh, Raqqa, and Aleppo in north and east Syria, resulted in casualties, including civilians, and extensive damage to civilian structures. Of particular concern is the impact on water and electrical power stations, which has led to a complete halt in the supply of electricity and water in the al-Hassakeh governorate. Additionally, the attacks caused damage to critical oil installations and the sole operational gas plant for domestic use in northeast Syria.

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The city of al-Hassakeh, which has been grappling with a severe water crisis for the past four years, is now facing further hardships due to these attacks. The ongoing water dispute since Turkey’s 2019 invasion of parts of northern Syria has already compromised the right to water for nearly a million people, including residents and displaced communities.

Adam Coogle, Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch, expressed grave concern over the situation, stating, “By targeting critical infrastructure across northeast Syria, including power and water stations, Turkey has flouted its responsibility to ensure that its military actions do not aggravate the region’s already dire humanitarian crisis. People in al-Hasakeh city and its surroundings, already facing a severe water crisis for the past four years, must now also bear the brunt of increased bombardment and destruction, exacerbating their struggle to get essential water supplies.”

According to the autonomous administration, the infrastructure damage caused by the attacks between October 5 and 10 has affected approximately 4.3 million people in northeast Syria. At least 18 water pumping stations and 11 power stations were rendered non-operational, including critical facilities such as the Sweidiya power plant and the north Qamishli electricity transfer station.

These attacks have left these essential facilities unable to function, leading to a complete disruption of both power and water supply services as of October 18th. The al-Gharbi dam transfer station in al-Hasakeh, responsible for supplying water to over 20,000 families, and the Amuda transfer station, serving 30,000 families, also remain inoperative as of October 18. The Amuda transfer station plays a crucial role in supplying power to the Derbasiya transfer station, which, in turn, powers the Alouk water station.

Alouk Water Station has been facing recurring disruptions over the past four years. Residents who depend on the station have been forced to rely on unregulated private water trucks, which are often expensive and provide poor-quality water. These disruptions have led to sanitation issues and outbreaks of water-borne illnesses, including cholera.

Under the laws of war, Turkey and other parties involved in an armed conflict are prohibited from attacking or damaging objects indispensable to the civilian population’s survival, including those related to water distribution and sanitation. Governments and authorities are obligated to ensure that people within their jurisdiction have access to sufficient, safe, and affordable water for personal and domestic use.

To address the ongoing crisis, Turkey must ensure the uninterrupted operation of the Alouk water station and allow qualified repair and maintenance teams regular access. All parties involved in the conflict should engage with the United Nations to facilitate the approval of a monitoring mechanism for the Alouk water station and Derbasiyeh electricity substation. The autonomous administration should refrain from intentional electricity cuts and ensure sufficient power supply to operate the Alouk station.

19 U.S. troops diagnosed with traumatic brain injury following attacks in Iraq and Syria

Nineteen American service members stationed in Iraq and Syria have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury after rocket and drone attacks from Iran-backed militants last week, according to a Defense Department official.

Fifteen troops at Al Tanf garrison in Syria and four at Al Asad air base in Iraq were diagnosed with the injury, the official said on Thursday. Two additional service members at Al Tanf sustained other minor injuries, the official said, and all have returned to duty.

The official was granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The news comes a day after the Pentagon announced that 21 service members had received minor injuries during the attacks on Oct. 17 and 18. Iran-backed groups have launched a number of additional attacks on U.S. positions in Iraq and Syria over the past week, but none has resulted in additional injuries to service members.

The reports of brain injuries highlight the risk to hundreds of U.S. troops at bases across the Middle East — and that threat is expected to grow as Israel prepares for its ground invasion of Gaza. On Tuesday, another Iranian proxy issued a statement threatening attacks on U.S. military bases in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has rushed additional ships, aircraft and air defenses to the region to help protect American troops, including most recently multiple Patriot battalions and a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.

This is not the first time American troops have sustained brain injuries at the hands of Iranian proxies in the Middle East. This spring, the Pentagon said at least 23 service members had been diagnosed with brain injuries from March attacks in Syria that killed an American contractor.

Spy photos of the Syrian desert reveal ancient Roman forts

Science.org published a compelling report that would reinterpret ancient Roman forts in the Syrian desert, initially believed to be part of a defensive frontier against the Sasanian Empire, based on declassified U.S. spy satellite photos. 

The new interpretation suggests that these forts had a more economic and trade-oriented purpose. Rather than being primarily defensive, these structures likely served as stops for caravans and traders along trade routes connecting Roman ports to the Silk Road. 

They offered protection to travellers from bandits and provided accommodations but were not designed for significant resistance against invading armies. This reinterpretation challenges the traditional view of these forts as defensive structures and highlights the importance of understanding the economic and trade strategies of the Roman Empire in the region.

In the 1920s, Jesuit priest Antoine Poidebard spotted what he believed to be ancient Roman forts while flying over the Syrian desert. He mapped and photographed over 100 of these structures, which historians initially thought were part of a defensive frontier built around 300 C.E. to protect against the Sasanian Empire. However, new research based on declassified U.S. spy satellite photos suggests a different interpretation. Instead of serving as a linear defensive barrier, these forts were likely used to safeguard and tax caravans and traders travelling along trade routes between Roman ports along the Mediterranean Sea and Silk Road trade routes.

Archaeologists identified more than 4500 human-made features in the satellite images, including 396 square or rectangular structures resembling Roman-style fortifications. These structures were dispersed throughout the Syrian plateau, running parallel to trade routes rather than forming a continuous defensive line. Researchers believe these forts served as stops for traders and travellers, offering protection from bandits and providing accommodations but not significant resistance against invading armies.

This reinterpretation challenges the long-standing assumption that these forts were primarily defensive in nature. Instead, they were likely part of Rome’s economic and trade strategy in the region. These findings suggest that the Roman presence in the Syrian desert was distinct from its more heavily fortified border zones, such as Hadrian’s Wall in England and the Rhine River. Instead, the Romans and Sasanians may have vied for influence among local tribes and kingdoms in the Syrian desert, making it a buffer area between their respective territories.

While this reinterpretation sheds new light on the purpose of these Roman-style structures, further excavation and dating of the sites are needed to confirm these hypotheses. The current security situation in the region makes on-the-ground archaeology challenging, but researchers hope that future stability will allow for more in-depth investigations. These findings demonstrate how satellite imagery can provide valuable insights into historical landscapes and challenge long-held assumptions in archaeology and history.


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