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Hazard Duty: Reporting From The Turkey-Syria Border


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro. Rachel Martin is away.

Islamic State fighters have continued their attacks on the key Syrian town of Kobani despite U.S. air bombings. Local Kurds in Turkey have tried to cross into Syria to defend the town. They're being stopped at the border by Turkish troops. Angry demonstrations have been met with tear gas and water cannons.

NPR's Deb Amos spent the last few weeks reporting from the border. The security situation there was so dangerous that NPR decided it was not safe for her to reveal her exact location. She is now back in America.

DEB AMOS, BYLINE: I'm in New York. I get to say that. I'm in New York.

SHAPIRO: You get to say exactly where you are. You were not in New York. You were along the Syrian border when the U.S. began airstrikes in Syria. How did the news spread? Were people very aware of what was happening?

AMOS: Yes. I was in Gaziantep, which is about an hour's drive from the border. And I woke up to hear about the strikes. I started making calls right away. One man I know was in Aleppo when the strikes went off and he saw them.

This is a guy who has seen Syrian jets. But he said this was completely different. The sound, the explosive power of these Tomahawk missiles was huge.

Also, in my hotel that day there was a group of people who had come in for democracy training, rule of law training. And there was a schoolteacher from Rocca, which is the self-styled capital of ISIS.

She had left her children and her husband in that town. She was frantic that morning because she couldn't get a call through to them and had no idea if they were safe. It turned out later on in the afternoon that they were.

So this was very personal for people, Syrians, who actually are in touch all the time, texting, phone messages, Facebook. It was quite a remarkable morning when this new phase of the fight began.

SHAPIRO: Tell us the story of a town you visited in southern Turkey called Suruc.

AMOS: Suruc is a tiny, little poor town about less than a mile from the Syrian border. And we went there because we had heard that a town across the border named Kobani was under threat from ISIS.

So we drive into Suruc, and the town is just packed, people standing on the streets, families, kids in their pajamas. Nobody knew what to do. They had just run from their houses in the town of Kobani as ISIS kept moving towards the town. Now this has been going on for a few weeks. Now we're up to 150,000 people who have crossed the border.

SHAPIRO: And as these thousands of people flooded into the small Turkish town, did it feel like there was an international presence to greet and organize them? Did it feel as though this was at all under control? Or was it just complete chaos?

AMOS: There was nobody there to greet these people. It took days for the UN to begin airlifting tents, blankets, water to that border area. So some people stood at the border waiting to get in for eight hours with their kids, with no water, no food, no nothing.

And a lot of them are farmers. They had animals. They didn't want to leave their animals on the other side. So there were also animals that were lined up at the border. And finally the Turkish military brought out big bales of animal feed. It was really chaos. It remains that way to this day because it is almost impossible to deal with 150,000 people in such a short amount of time. It was just an extraordinary exodus of humans all at once.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Deb Amos who's just returned from a reporting trip along Turkey's border with Syria. Thanks, Deb.

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