Tug of War: Photographs Capture Horror of Turkey's Offensive Into Syria

Thea Pedersen

More than half a million people have been killed. Millions more have lost their homes, seeking safe refuge elsewhere. This is the toll of Syria's eight-year civil war. And when U.S. troops retreated from northeastern Syria in October, allowing for a new offensive by Turkey, a fresh wave of horrors was unleashed on local families and children as well as Kurdish soldiers who had been fighting ISIS alongside the U.S. military.

Two weeks later, on October 23, the Trump administration celebrated a permanent ceasefire, an end to a disaster that was largely of its own making. The decision to withdraw was seen widely as a betrayal of U.S. allies and got almost no Republican support on Capitol Hill. After the Americans left, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 120 civilians were killed. In addition, 275 Syrian Democratic Forces fighters, 196 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and 10 Turkish soldiers were killed. Three hundred thousand civilians were forced to flee.

"I've seen this so many times covering this region," Thea Pedersen, a Danish freelance journalist covering the situation in northeastern Syria, told Newsweek. "War goes beyond hitting and affecting civilians and first and foremost the children."

Pedersen's photographs, below, capture much of the human cost and devastation involved in this most recent offense.

International concern has focused on prisons holding ISIS fighters, as well as the women and children who lived under the caliphate and are now kept in a sprawling detention camp under Kurdish guard. After the offensive began, Pedersen said she was the first journalist to visit the heavily-restricted and notorious detention camp at Al-Hol, in the northeastern Al-Hasakah province. The town was one of the first taken from ISIS by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a mostly Kurdish militia who provided crucial help in the U.S. fight against the militant group. With fewer guards available to provide security, the atmosphere at the camp, Pedersen said, was "tense."

Elsewhere, Turkish forces were accused of using white phosphorus and the UN is investigating. Pedersen photographed people who appeared to have been victims. "We need experts to verify this, but it's abnormal," a doctor treating what appeared to be burn injuries told Pedersen.

The latest round of agreements leave Turkey and Russia with power over what was Kurdish-held territory. Ankara will also get its long-desired 20-mile-deep buffer zone along the border and the lifting of U.S. sanctions.

"Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand," Trump said in announcing the ceasefire, adding that a deal could not have been made without the "short-term outburst."

"Countless lives are now being saved as a result of our negotiation with Turkey—an outcome reached without spilling one drop of American blood."

See a selection of Pedersen's photos below, or read more about her work capturing shots of Syria's child victims, detention camps and those suffering horrific burns and injuries.