Islamic State fighters are rapidly establishing a new caliphate in northeast Syria after the jihadists gained control over the huge camp they were ousted to by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes, captured villages in Syria’s eastern province in March, toppling ISIS’ final outpost in the region.
The demise of ISIS’ self-proclaimed caliphate forced the extremist group to morph from a governing authority back into a guerrilla insurgency, as swaths of territory were freed from its brutal rule.
After ISIS lost its control of territory in Syria, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces declared victory over the extremists, while President Donald Trump insisted ISIS’ demise justified withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria.
But the jihadist group remained a serious threat.
Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, an understaffed, under-resourced government that heavily relies on assistance from the United States, subsequently deployed 70,000 remaining ISIS fighters and family members, 50,000 of which were women and children, to “internally displaced person camps,” with minimal supervision and aid.
The IDP camps housed mostly women and children, while approximately 2,000 ISIS fighters were detained in provisional prisons.
According to U.S. officials, ISIS has more reign in al-Hol, Syria’s largest IDP camp, than SDF guards stationed there. ISIS women are reportedly governing the encampment under sharia law and administering brutal executions. Jihadists are also using the camp as a recruitment base, trafficking fighters in and out of the site and devising schemes to launch terrorist attacks through Syria in an effort to reassemble a caliphate.
“The IDP camp al-Hol is quickly becoming a mini-caliphate and a fertile recruiting ground for ISIS,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned in an interview with the National Post. “The security footprint around the camp is incredibly weak, and the camp is being run by ISIS types under our very nose.”
Approximately 11,000 of the 70,000 women and children housed in al-Hol originate from dozens of other countries outside of Iraq and Syria. Their native countries, particularly European states, have barred them from returning. As a result, they are impoverished and susceptible to ISIS recruitment.
President Trump has threatened to release hundreds of ISIS fighters captured in Syria to Europe.
A report released last week by the Department of Defense details the extent of ISIS in Syria and Iraq as having been invigorated following the partial removal of U.S. troops from within the region.
The Pentagon’s inspector general contends in the report that the withdrawal of troops is forcing the Trump administration to depend on third-party monitoring in the region, including a refugee camp constructed by U.S.-backed forces.
Reducing the U.S. military’s footprint in Syria is facilitating ISIS’ ability to recruit new members, the report states.
“According to [joint task force officials], the drawdown of U.S. forces in Syria also reduced the ability of [the U.S.-backed mission] to maintain ‘visibility’ at the al-Hol IDP camp, forcing it to rely on third-party accounts of the humanitarian and security situation there,” the report reads.
“[The task force] said that it lacks the resources to monitor the camp directly, and that the SDF was only capable of providing ‘minimal security’—a deficiency that [officials] said has created conditions that allow ISIS ideology to spread ‘uncontested’ in the camp,” the Pentagon continued.
Trump has said that a small residual U.S. force will remain in Syria for an indefinite period of time to help ensure ISIS remains defeated.
Despite broad opposition from within his own military, Trump hasn’t backed down from his order to bring U.S. troops home from Syria, which now number around 1,000.
“We’re rapidly pulling out of Syria,” he declared in July at the end of a cabinet meeting. “We’ll be out of there pretty soon. And let them handle their own problems. Syria can handle their own problems—along with Iran, along with Russia, along with Iraq, along with Turkey. We’re 7,000 miles away.”