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President Trump's determination to pull U.S. troops out of Syria despite that ongoing violence we just heard about is costing him among his most loyal supporters - evangelical Christians. Several evangelical leaders have criticized the planned withdrawal, saying it could leave Christians in Syria vulnerable to attack. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.
TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: This latest violence shows that ISIS in Syria is still a force to be feared, and given its past attacks on them, Syrian Christians have reason to worry. Today's news came just as the Open Doors Organization, which tracks persecution of Christians around the world, issued its annual list of countries where Christians are in danger. Open Doors CEO David Curry says a security vacuum in Syria would endanger minorities there, especially Christians.
DAVID CURRY: Left to protect themselves, Christians in Syria will become extinct. There's just so few of them now. So we're going to need the U.S. or others to protect those religious minorities or you're going to have a continued genocide.
GJELTEN: Open Doors is just one of the evangelical organizations expressing concern about the implications of a U.S. pullout from Syria. The Christian Broadcasting Network, founded by the conservative televangelist Pat Robertson, is mostly friendly to Donald Trump, but CBN White House correspondent Jennifer Wishon last week saw a serious problem with Trump's plan for Syria.
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JENNIFER WISHON: For now, it appears U.S. policy is putting 2,000 years of Christian history and tradition at risk. Jennifer Wishon, CBN News.
GJELTEN: And there was even harsher criticism from the conservative Family Research Council. Two top officers wrote last month that a U.S. withdrawal from Syria would deal, quote, "an incalculable blow to our professed concern for Christians. We must not do it," they said. The worry is that when U.S. troops leave, Turkish forces or their proxies will come after the Christian and other minority communities there. Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council - a Christian group - had just left Syria last month when Trump announced his pullout plan.
BASSAM ISHAK: Once that announcement was made, I was getting calls from Syrian Christians, from Kurds who were worried and wanted to know if I had any information. They were desperate.
GJELTEN: The Syriac Christians are among the oldest Christian populations in the world. They still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. And they have suffered from Turkish attacks in the past, most notably in the early 20th century. There is also a small Kurdish Christian population in northern Syria, many of them evangelicals. Aykan Erdemir, a former opposition member in the Turkish Parliament, says these Christian Kurds are already the target of Turkish propaganda.
AYKAN ERDEMIR: We see conspiracy theories about a global push to establish a Christian Kurdish state which is, of course, nonsense.
GJELTEN: Christians and other minorities in Syria, including the Yazidis, have welcomed the presence of U.S. troops in the region. The Trump administration has told Turkey to leave those vulnerable groups alone after the U.S. leaves, but the warnings have mostly been rebuffed. Erdemir, now a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, notes that in March, when Turkish troops entered the Kurdish town of Afrin in Syria, they and forces allied with them looted property and caused Kurds to flee.
ERDEMIR: So far, the Turkish government has not given any assurances to the Syriac Christians, to the Yazidis, to the Kurds that Turkey will act differently this time.
GJELTEN: And that's what worries those for whom the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities is a serious concern. Tom Gjelten, NPR News.
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