WASHINGTON - Kurdish forces and Assyrian Christian militias in northeast Syria are battling Islamic State fighters making a land-grab between its controlled territories.
Syriac Military Council leader Kino Gabriel shared updates with VOA from the city of Qamishli, where he is coordinating joint efforts to reclaim villages and free more than 100 abducted residents after Islamic State militants overran towns along the Khabour river earlier this week.
Q: What's the latest update on clashes in the area?
A: Our forces are stationed on the northern bank of the Khabour River and they are having clashes against ISIS, (which) are stationed on the southern bank of the river.
Q: Have you heard anything about the conditions of the kidnapped Christians?
A: There is no information or any confirmation about their location and their status. The last number I got, we have the names of around 120 to 150 people, but we believe there were much more (than) that number inside the villages.
Q: Do you know what the situation is inside those villages?
A: ISIS is making some positions for its forces inside those villages. I think they are moving some ammunition and building some barricades in those villages.
Q: Have the international coalition airstrikes helped your fighters?
A: I think they have done some good job in targeting ISIS locations and forces. After those attacks, ISIS started to burn wheels and other things in order to make smoke to cover their movements and their forces. That in a way slowed them down a little bit. I think more airstrikes from the international coalition would benefit us very much. The most that we need is direct military support for our forces -- the same that happened with Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq. That is the key to stand against ISIS and make a victory over it.
Q: The Syriac Military Council has asked the international community to supply weapons. Are you also requesting boots on the ground?
A. I need equipment. I think the fighters, the numbers we have fighting against ISIS is enough. Their will is very high, they are determined to defeat ISIS. Like I said, we just need equipment and some heavy machines and weapons in order to make and get the balance of power to our side to defeat ISIS. ... So far, with what we have and the arsenal we have in our hands, we managed to defeat it in several locations, including Tal Hamiz, Jazaa, in some villages on the Syria-Iraq border, not to forgot to mention Kobani.
I want to make an example like in Kobani, the [Kurdish] YPG forces managed to defend somehow, or to slow down the ISIS forces till they got that support from the coalition airstrikes and the support that came from the Peshmerga forces, which was the key that made the difference between losing control over Kobani and winning the combat and the war in Kobani.
Q. Do you have a message for Washington?
A. For a long time, the Syriac Assyrian people had a lot of massacres, killings, that aimed to vanish him from his land. Those risks are continuing in the war in the Middle East. In Iraq, in Turkey, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Egypt, the (Eastern) Christian existence is in danger to be vanished by a lot of forces. It is not only ISIS; it is the thoughts and ideology that is behind those actions. In order to prevent more attacks on the Syriac Christian existence in the Middle East, we need some plan, some arrangements to be taken in order to get support, to defend ourselves and preserve our existence in the Middle East.
We do have this will, we do have this determination to continue our existence and to continue our life and to build a new future for ourselves. And for that, we do need the support and the help from the U.S. government, from the Western democracies to support us on this wish ... to make it happen.