The Slatest

Hundreds of ISIS Allies Flee Detention in Northern Syria as U.S. Prepares Full Withdrawal

A Turkish army armored vehicle advances in Syrian city of Tel Abyad, as seen from the Turkish border town of Akcakale on October 13, 2019 in Akcakale, Turkey.
A Turkish army armored vehicle advances in Syrian city of Tel Abyad, as seen from the Turkish border town of Akcakale on October 13, 2019 in Akcakale, Turkey. Burak Kara/Getty Images

The situation in northern Syria is rapidly deteriorating as Turkish troops continue their advance into the region. At least 750 people with suspected ties to the Islamic State managed to flee a displacement camp in north-east Syria after Turkish airstrikes hit the surrounding areas. The Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria put the number of ISIS supporters who escaped at 950. That once again has led to fears that ISIS could quickly strengthen in the region amid the current chaos and there were reports of an Islamic State flag going up in the countryside between the camp and the Turkish border. It was yet “another indication of how the Kurdish authorities were losing control of a region they had freed from the extremists only months ago,” reports the New York Times. The ISIS allies fled the camp mere hours before the United States said it would withdraw its troops from northern Syria.

The United States is “preparing to evacuate” around 1,000 troops from northern Syria “as safely and quickly as possible,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on CBS’ Face the Nation. President Donald Trump made the decision to withdraw Saturday night amid risk of confrontation between Turkish forces and U.S. troops. Part of the reason for the decision was that Washington’s ally the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was looking to make a deal with Russia to fight the Turkish forces. “And so we find ourselves, we have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies, and it’s a very untenable situation,” Esper said. “So I spoke with the president last night, after discussions with the rest of the national security team, and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria.” The risk to U.S. troops became clear on Friday when they came under fire from Turkish forces, although no American troops were hurt. It isn’t clear whether that was an accident, Esper said.

As the U.S. prepared its withdrawal, there were increasing reports of atrocities carried out by Turkish-backed militias, including the execution of several civilians. Among those reported killed was Hervin Khalaf, secretary general of the Future Syria Party. Turkish-backed fighters also killed at least two Kuridsh prisoners on Saturday. One of the killings was caught on video.

Despite the increasing chaos that has resulted since troop ordered U.S. troops in the region to take a step back and thus leaving the Kurds vulnerable to attacks from Turkey, Trump insisted it was the right move. “Very smart not to be involved in the intense fighting along the Turkish Border, for a change,” Trump wrote on Twitter Sunday morning. “Those that mistakenly got us into the Middle East Wars are still pushing to fight.” Trump went on to characterize this as yet another chapter in a long war considering that “the Kurds and Turkey have been fighting for many years.” He added that “others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other. Let them!” Trump later noted he was working with Congress to impose “powerful Sanctions on Turkey.”