There’s growing concern that over 10,000 jihadists, among these thousands of ISIS terrorists, could go free as a result of Turkey’s ongoing invasion of northeast Syria. This is especially the case at the sprawling al-Hol prison camp, administered and guarded by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), home to over 70,000 people – mostly families of known ISIS fighters. This as the White House seems to have washed its hands of the matter, leaving the question up to local and regional powers, especially Turkey.
Al-Hol is considered ground zero for a potential resurgent ISIS, ready to explode as SDF security was already severely undermanned even months prior to this week’s Turkish Army attack, and now there’s large scale rioting breaking out, per SDF official reports and video footage.
— Coordination & Military Ops Center – SDF (@cmoc_sdf) October 11, 2019
Months ago, the BBC reported of the refugee city in the desert: “Al-Hol is a nightmare, a camp that has grown from 11,000 people, to more than 70,000. It is swollen with the dark aftermath of the collapsed pseudo-caliphate. It is ready to burst.“
It appears the remnant ISIS insurgents are taking advantage of the Turkish operation to regroup, and to gain freedom from the many makeshift detention centers across northeast Syria maintained by the SDF.
Crucially, the SDF announced days ago that under Turkish attack they can no longer maintain appropriate level of security guarding their ISIS prisoners. And though American special forces personnel are still present at a number of bases in the region (after having fallen back from border observation posts amid the Turkish operation), it doesn’t appear the Pentagon has any sort of contingency plan.
Specifically the SDF currently holds about 11,000 ISIS prisoners, not to mention families of Islamic State terrorists at al-Hol. A Time report noted:
The U.S. military has no plans to take over these camps and, with only about 1,000 total troops inside Syria, is not prepared to do so, U.S. officials told TIME. If the Kurds abandon their guard posts to defend their homes against the Turkish military incursion, thousands of ISIS operatives are likely to escape, U.S. military, diplomatic and intelligence officials have concluded.
Early this week the SDF’s top commander, Mustafa Bali, confirmed this, saying of al-Hol, “This is an Isis city – 70,000 people cannot be controlled. We have only enough guards to protect from outside attack.”
He said the Kurdish-led militias administration of the prison camp won’t last long while his fighters are under the full might of Turkey’s military incursion.
Driving through Northern Syria it’s so clear. So many of these areas were JUST in ISIS hands. They were JUST taken back. The isis fighters are STILL AROUND. And now a WAR against those who jailed them? …
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) October 11, 2019
With the current riots within the camp unfolding, which again resembles more a make-shift city, and with the Syrian Kurds busy fighting back a Turkish air and land assault, it is only a matter of time before thousands of terrorists escape, possibly even making their way to Europe — a ‘worst nightmare’ scenario.