In defending his decision to remove US troops from northern Syria, President Donald Trump echoed talking points from Turkish officials, suggesting that Kurdish forces might be purposely allowing ISIS detainees to escape camps and prisons.
“Kurds may be releasing some to get us involved,” Trump tweeted Monday morning.
Facts First: Contrary to Trump’s allegation, US officials have told CNN there are no indications that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have intentionally released any of the 10,000-plus ISIS prisoners they guard.
A senior US defense official tells CNN that President Trump “falsely claiming that the SDF Kurds are letting ISIS prisoners out of prison is wrong because they are the people that defeated ISIS, wrong because they are currently risking their lives to defend our forces and wrong because they are fighting a force that intends to eliminate their people because we green lighted their operation.”
Due to the attack by Turkish forces on the SDF in northern Syrian, the Kurdish-led militia has had to remove troops guarding prisons and camps holding ISIS fighters and those displaced by the fight against ISIS.
“We already did not have professional jails or professional prisons to keep those prisoners in,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said last week. “The Turkish invasion to our region is going to leave a huge space, because we are forced to pull out some of our troops from the prisons and from the [displaced people] camps to the border to protect our people.”
Turkish warplanes and artillery have also repeatedly struck several detention camps, allowing the escape of several ISIS prisoners and 785 people connected to ISIS fighters, according to Kurdish authorities. Turkish President Recep Tyayyip Erdogan suggested the reports were “disinformation,” designed to “provoke the US and Europe.”
In a comment to Foreign Policy, the political wing of the SDF disputed Trump’s claim, saying the group did not “release any prisoners and will never do that.”
The invasion by Turkey has forced the SDF to strike a deal with the Syrian government. Under this deal, the SDF will disband as an entity and become integrated into Syrian forces, several units of which are currently under Russian control, according to Syria analyst Danny Makki, a guest contributor to the Middle East Institute. ISIS fighters and their families, however, will remain under Kurdish control, according to Makki.
Makki also refuted the idea that Kurdish forces have allowed ISIS prisoners to escape. “The Kurds have not released any ISIS fighters who may be imprisoned, nor would it be in the interest of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) if they did,” Makki told CNN.
US officials believe the SDF – who have lost 11,000 troops in the fight against ISIS – is unlikely to intentionally release any ISIS prisoners given the direct threat the terrorist group poses to Kurdish-held areas.
Although the SDF has repeatedly highlighted the dangers of ISIS fighters escaping to garner international support, a European intelligence official told CNN that it was unlikely the SDF would trust the West again.