SDF fighters attend a funeral in Qamishli, October 29, 2018. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Withdrawal of US troops from northeast Syria could prompt the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to abandon the front against ISIS and release its jihadist detainees, a war monitor warned on Thursday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the SDF is seriously considering the release of 3,200 foreign and local ISIS fighters in Syria after home countries refused to take them back.
The Kurdish-led force is also considering its own withdrawal from the frontline against ISIS in Deir ez-Zor in order to defend its territory against a feared Turkish operation.
“Multiple credible sources” told SOHR that the military and political leadership of SDF controlled areas had a “long meeting” following the news of the US withdrawal.
“It discussed seriously releasing thousands of elements of the Islamic State organization and their families, including children and women, in prisons or Syrian Democratic Forces’ camps,” said the war monitor Thursday.
The SDF is holding around 2,080 women and children from 44 different countries and 1,100 fighters from 31 different countries.
SOHR said the prisoners could be freed on Syrian territory very soon.
Thousands of foreign fighters, among them some the most radical members of ISIS, are held in SDF prisons. Their home countries, fearing that they cannot successfully prosecute them, are unwilling to take them back.
Such a mass release could revive the ISIS insurgency, which had been on its last legs.
SOHR also reported the SDF is considering withdrawal from its frontline positions against ISIS and redeploying to northern and western areas to hold off a feared Turkish intervention.
Turkey had been dissuaded from launching an operation east of the Euphrates by the US military presence in Manbij and northeast Syria. The US withdrawal changes the arithmetic on the ground.
An SDF withdrawal from the front with ISIS, which holds a shrinking pocket of territory, could allow the jihadists to regroup.