Damascus (GPA) – Several top US officials have come out in defense of the deal following outrage from NATO ally Turkey.
Earlier this week, details of a deal between the US coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), local tribes around Raqqa, the “Raqqa Civil Council,” and ISIS emerged and were reported on by everyone, including some western corporate outlets. The deal in question was an agreement between US-backed factions in Raqqa and ISIS to allow hundreds of members – and captives – of the terrorist group to flee.
After this agreement was discovered, more details began to emerge about the exact circumstances surrounding the ISIS withdrawal. These particulars showed a clear pattern by the US and their allies of trying to conceal their actions before the evacuation even began.
As first reported by the BBC, the truck drivers contracted to move the militants were deceived; being told they would be moving refugees and that the job would take six hours. Upon their arrival, many drivers were horrified to learn what they were actually transporting and have begun to speak out about the awful truce made by the SDF.
The drivers (who were never even paid) informed anyone who would listen about the ISIS fighters they evacuated, telling journalists that not only were the fighters on board but also their “families,” which includes hostages and sex slaves. The takfiris were even allowed to take their weapons and ammunition with them despite their organization almost completely crushed.
The drivers also complained that their job got even worse as the operation began. As one driver told the BBC: “We were scared from the moment we entered Raqqa,” he says. “We were supposed to go in with the SDF, but we went alone. As soon as we entered, we saw IS fighters with their weapons and suicide belts on. They booby-trapped our trucks. If something were to go wrong in the deal, they would bomb the entire convoy. Even their children and women had suicide belts on.”
The deal between the SDF and ISIS also supposedly stipulated that foreign fighters would not be allowed in the convoy. Later it was revealed that this wasn’t enacted and the foreign fighters also avoided having biometric data collected.
The convoy let the ISIS fighters off once they reached territory controlled by the group southeast of Raqqa. This is the area where Russia has accused the US of allowing ISIS to move freely in the past, which was deemed “fake news” until the publishing of this information.
While some of the terrorists likely remain in this area, some have also fled further, including into neighboring countries like Turkey. While Turkey may not have a massive problem with this due to their history of supporting ISIS, they are now concerned this support could come back to bite them. Ankara is also not going to miss an opportunity to slam the NATO-backed SDF.
Turkey, also a NATO member, still considers the Kurdish forces leading the SDF as terrorists tied to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). In the words of Turkish prime minister Binali Yildirim, this means Turkey views this action as “One terror group left Raqqa and another settled in,” rather than “eliminating [ISIS] from the city.”
Since the US government doesn’t care about the media, there was no initial response made. Now that a critical ally in the region has called out the US decision top officials from the military and defense department have emerged to defend the evacuation.
One defender of the deal that should be discussed is the spokesperson for the “anti-ISIS coalition,” Colonel Ryan Dillon who spoke at a press briefing on Tuesday.
“This was not a secret,” Dillon said. He went on to explain that “As the civilians were coming out there was an agreement that was made that ISIS-aged males or civilians that came out would be screened and we would take biometrical data from them to see if they were in our system, if not, to be processed in that system.”
Dillon did admit that a US coalition official did observe the evacuation in a “non-active role.” The stories of the truck drivers who spoke to the BBC also came up, to which Dillon replied that “We are not aware of and certainly can’t corroborate the amount described in the story or the statements made by the bus drivers.”
US forces apparently “monitored” the convoy by air as it traveled further into Syria, which Dillon rationalized as a temporary problem. “They were staying within Syria… so it was just a matter of time until we fought them again,” he said.
One problem, mentioned above, is that it’s likely some of these fighters then went on to fight Syrian forces between Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. While this use of ISIS against the Syrian Arab Army isn’t a new strategy, the BBC report paints a clear picture of just how the process is facilitated.
This is also not the first time the Kurdish forces of the SDF have made deals with ISIS. In June of this year it was reported Kurds in Raqqa were even “pardoning” ISIS members to “promote stability.”