A supporter of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah holds a poster bearing a portrait of Hassan Nasrallah as she attends on August 31, 2017 a rally in Baalbek to celebrate the return of its fighters after fighting a week-long offensive against the ISIS group on Syria's side of the Lebanese border. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The commander of the Tal Afar operation has said that they have made no deal to transfer ISIS militants from Tal Afar or elsewhere since they launched the Mosul offensive last October. Meanwhile the Lebanese Hezbollah militia claimed that more than 1,000 ISIS militants fled Tal Afar and sought refuge in Kurdish areas north of Iraq.
“No terrorist handed himself to our units, nor was there any act, deal or talks with any of the terrorists during the operation,” Iraqi Lt. Gen. Abdulamir Rashid Yaralla said at a press conference Saturday about the operation in Tal Afar that lasted for 10 days.
He said the orders they received from the Iraqi Prime Minister and commander-in-chief of the armed forces Haider al-Abadi has been very clear since the beginning of the war against ISIS.
“The enemy has two options: either they will surrender or be killed. There is no word for ‘deal with terrorists’ in the dictionary of units of the Iraqi Army, the Federal [Police], the Counter-Terrorism Service, or the Hashd,” Yaralla added.
The claims and counterclaims between the Iraqis and Hezbollah comes as the latter together with the Syrian army struck a deal to transfer more than 300 ISIS militants from Syria’s east on the border area with Lebanon to its west bordering Iraq.
The US-led Coalition, the Kurdistan Region and Iraq all oppose the Hezbollah-ISIS deal. The Coalition has since carried out airstrikes to block the convoy to reach its targeted areas in Syria’s eastern province of Deir ez-Zor, largely under ISIS control.
Hezbollah said Saturday that six out of the 17 buses left territories controlled by the Syrian regime; therefore, they and the Syrian army had followed through on their part of the deal with the ISIS convoy.
The Lebanese militia warned that the US-led coalition should bear responsibility for any harm that may be inflicted on the remaining convoy since they refused to allow the transfer to go ahead as planned.
It then accused the Coalition of having helped the ISIS militants to flee the once-ISIS held town of Tal Afar, west of Mosul to Kurdish-controlled areas north of Iraq.
“For them to say they are serious in their fight against ISIS is entirely contradicted when these past days they have helped more than 1,000 ISIS fighters, especially foreigners, to flee Tal Afar and seek refuge to the Kurdish areas north of Iraq,” the statement by Hezbollah read, saying that there are many documents to prove that there was such a deal.
The Coalition denied aiding ISIS and tweeted that it was not providing "food or water to ISIS" and their mission was to "defeat" the extremist group on Sunday.
Kurdish officials and the Coalition have said that the Peshmerga have killed more than 100 ISIS militants fleeing Tal Afar.
The Peshmerga however said that they have detained dozens of women and children of ISIS fighters, mostly foreigners as they handed in themselves in to the Kurdish fighters.
Jamal Saado, a Peshmerga commander, told Rudaw English Saturday that they arrested many such ISIS families, about 50 of them in three days.
He said that they will refer the ISIS families to a camp in Hammam al-Alil, south of Mosul, and that some may be tried in Iraqi courts.
Lt. Gen. Yarallah, from the Iraqi army, also said that the Iraqi forces, including the Hashd, lost 115 fighters, and 679 were injured during the 10-day operation for Tal Afar.
It was the first time Iraqis released figures for their casualties since the operation to oust ISIS from Mosul city began late last year.
He said this shows that they liberated Tal Afar after a “difficult” fight, not as a result of some sort of deal with ISIS militants.
He said that they will not negotiate with ISIS in the operations to come to liberate Hawija, south of Kirkuk, or elsewhere in Iraq.
Asked by Rudaw on Saturday, the spokesperson for the Coalition that backed the Iraqi operation in Tal Afar said they are not aware of any deal that may have been made between the Iraqi forces and the ISIS militants.
“I don’t know of any deal. I know that ISIS was defeated. They have lost yet another stronghold, yet another town and that has happened over the course of the last three years. Iraqi security forces have been victorious in Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul, Tal Afar and we will see that victory continue in Hawija,” US Army Col. Ryan Dillon told Rudaw TV.