Turkish tanks dot the hills here, guarding against Islamic State militants advancing just across the Syrian border. Lines of police officers fan out across fields, brandishing shields to stem the flow of Syrian Kurds fleeing the militants.
Tear gas mixes with wind-blown dirt as the police disperse refugees desperate to get into Turkey and Turkish Kurds trying to help them. The police also clash with Kurdish men equally desperate to cross in the opposite direction — Turkish and Syrian citizens bound for Syria to defend the Kurdish enclave of Kobani from an Islamic State assault.
Refugees who make it to Turkey sit on dry, loose earth, unsure where to find shelter as a hot wind whips grit into their faces. Behind a border fence, thousands have waited for days, some with herds of sheep and goats, which they say are in danger of dying of thirst.
The chaos on this one small stretch of the border illustrates the complexity of the conflict into which the United States is now inserting itself far more forcibly than ever before during three years of Syrian civil war.
Here, where Kurdish communities straddle the border, the three-way battle among the Islamic State, Syrian insurgents and President Bashar al-Assad overlaps with a far older conflict between Turkey and its Kurdish minority.
Kurds on both sides of the border here accuse Turkey, nominally an American ally against the Islamic State, of creating the extremist group to kill Kurds and stop them from using the chaos in Syria to establish autonomy there. That view was only strengthened this week, they said, as Turkish authorities impeded both those trying to flee the Islamic State and those trying to fight it.
The Crossroads of Special Operations