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Syrian Rebels Want Enough Help To Turn The Tide


NPR's Kelly McEvers has been reporting on Syria since the uprisings first began there more than two years ago. She's making a rare visit to our headquarters here in D.C., and she's here in the studio to offer a long view of Syria. And, Kelly, for all this talk of red lines and chemical weapons, when you talk with Syrians about U.S. military intervention, what do they tell you?

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: They're pretty cynical at this point. They don't feel like anyone's really watching, anyone's really caring. So at any point when there is something that brings their, you know, situation into the news, they're happy for it. But I think what they would say and what they do say to us every day is, look, it's not just chemical weapons that are killing our people. It's the government that's killing our people. It's air strikes. It's scud missiles. It's mortar rounds. And these things are falling out of the sky every single day, falling on villages, killing women and children, civilians by the hundreds. And so, you know, they're happy for the attention, but they do feel like the world has sort of left them behind and isn't doing anything to stop the violence.

CORNISH: Now, if, and it's obviously a big if, the U.S. does actually get involved militarily, I mean, what would you tell policymakers or the U.S. military? I mean, what are the pitfalls that they're not aware of that someone on the ground would know?

MCEVERS: Well, I would probably tell them something that they already know, that there are no real good options here. I think if there was a good option, if there had been a good option, they might have explored it already. And they know that. But what we do see when we go on the ground, we report with these rebels, is we see a people that is determined to topple this regime.

That is a fact, and that they're just not going to stop. I mean, I've had people tell me, I've got seven sons. I can afford to lose a few in this fight. That's how determined they are to stop this. I feel like the Syrians themselves, for a long time, have acknowledged they don't want an intervention. They don't want an Iraq-style intervention. They don't want American boots on the ground.

Everybody knows that's not a good idea. But they want some kind of help on the ground so that they can turn the tide and gain the upper hand in the battle - enough, so that then the diplomats can get to work and try to maybe negotiate some sort of end for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

CORNISH: And you've reported the more traditional war stories. I mean, rebel fighters being on the front lines. But you've also brought back a lot of really human stories from this war. And at this point, what's your assessment of where things stand in Syria?

MCEVERS: Syria, Audie, is a country that is falling apart. It's coming apart along sectarian lines. It's coming apart along geographic lines. I mean, you know, this is a country - I think when you think of a country at war, you think of a place that's just sort of destroyed, but it's important to remember, this is a country that is rich in history and culture.

You know, just this week, a thousand-year-old minaret was destroyed in the ancient city of Aleppo. This is one of the oldest occupied cities in the world, you know, a city that is just so deep in culture. And to see something like that happen is to know how bad it's really getting. And I don't see any end to it anytime soon.

CORNISH: Are there any stories that have really stayed with you, one person or place that you can't shake?

MCEVERS: You know, it's a war, and covering a war means talking to people who have had to make the horrible decision to pick up their entire lives and leave their home. Millions of them have done that and left the country altogether and are living in every country that borders Syria. Millions more have left their homes inside Syria and don't even have the means to get out.

And these are people who literally put whatever they can grab in the five minutes that they know they have to go into a bag and go move into a mosque, a tent. They live in the street. Hopefully, a relative lives in a safe neighborhood. And lots of them are living in schools. There, you know, for a long time, was no school in Syria anymore because the schools were being used by displaced people.

We spent a night in a school, just one night, and I don't think I'll ever forget that story. It was one family. It was a family of five that had managed to stay in the school. Every single woman in the family had lost a baby in the course of the year because they didn't have a place to sleep, because they were cold, because there wasn't enough food.

One of the women was living under a mattress on the street after her house was bombed. She didn't have a phone to call her brother. He drove by one day, he saw her, picked her up. The kids were picking garbage just to get money. Another member of the family decided to join the rebels 'cause that was the only way he could get money to bring cooking oil home for the family.

And what I just can't forget is that, you know, this is one family. Multiply that by hundreds of thousands of families all across Syria and that's what's happening.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Kelly McEvers. Kelly, thanks for your reporting.

MCEVERS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelly McEvers is a two-time Peabody Award-winning journalist and former host of NPR's flagship newsmagazine, All Things Considered. She spent much of her career as an international correspondent, reporting from Asia, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. She is the creator and host of the acclaimed Embedded podcast, a documentary show that goes to hard places to make sense of the news. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Chicago.
Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
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