ISIS could use the confusion caused by a US withdrawal from northern Syria to attempt to free thousands of captured fighters, a Syrian official told Business Insider.
President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of US forces late Sunday, with Turkish fighters set to move in and launch a long-awaited offensive on the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
An official with the SDF, which made up a large proportion of the ground troops that battled ISIS in the region, told Business Insider that they fear any offensive from Turkey will force them to leave camps holding captured ISIS fighters.
“We are not threatening to release these criminals, but its not realistic to ask us to both fight the Turks and house all of the west’s ISIS members,” said the official, who spoke anonymously to Business Insider.
Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
A long awaited Turkish operation to push back against Kurdish militias, once aligned with the US in the fight against ISIS, from its border with Syria threatens to destabilize a fragile region, and raises fears that thousands of captured ISIS fighters could escape Kurdish-run jails amid the confusion.
On Sunday night, the White House announced that it would withdraw US troops based along the Turkish-Syrian border, where they were advising the mostly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their years along fight against ISIS.
By Monday at least 150 US special operations troops in three key outposts near the Turkish border had already started to withdraw towards a US military base in northern Iraq, SDF officials and local residents told Business Insider.
Read more: Trump defended his controversial decision to pull US forces out of Syria in a rambling tweetstorm
The withdrawal is set to allow Turkish troops to push into northern Syria and launch an offensive against the SDF, which has links with the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK in Kurdish. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US, and EU.
SDF commanders immediately accused the US of betraying its long time ally. The SDF was the main ground force in the fight against ISIS in Syria, and has had thousands of fighters killed in the conflict.
After more than a month of negotiating with Ankara over how to push the Kurdish fighters back from the border with Syria, and establish a “safe zone” that could potentially house more than three million Syrian refugees in Turkey, the White House Sunday night appeared to wash its hands of the conflict ordering its troops to stand down operations.
Concerns over a US withdrawal of troops and the abandonment of critical allies last December led then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis to resign, along with other key figures in the anti-ISIS coalition.
On Monday, the SDF directly accused the US of failing to keep its promise to protect its allies from a Turkish offensive.
The force said it had met all its commitments under an earlier plan to avoid the apparently impending conflict.
Despite all the efforts we did to avoid conflict, our commitment to the …read more
Source:: Business Insider