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US military will not oversee IS prisons if Kurdish forces withdraw during Turkey invasion

Kurdish forces currently control around 20 prisons and camps. [Getty]

Date of publication: 9 October, 2019

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Kurdish forces warn they would be unable to guard the thousands of IS prisoners under their control in the event of a Turkish military operation in northern Syria.

The US military will not intervene if Kurdish forces abandon a network of prisons holding thousands of Islamic State (IS) fighters amid an imminent Turkish military operation in northern Syria, officials say.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with backing from the US-led coalition, were critical to defeating IS earlier this year after seizing the group's final bastion in Baghouz.

But Kurdish forces have warned that the Turkish invasion of northeast Syria could spark a resurgence of the extremist group, with SDF fighters unable to guard IS prisoners if their forces were busy fighting off Ankara's offensive.

US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post on Wednesday that the Pentagon did not have enough forces to oversee the prison facilities if they were left unguarded, and had no mandate to so do.

Kurdish forces currently control around 20 prisons and camps containing more than 11,000 IS fighters and their families.

The Trump administration has said Turkish forces would be responsible for IS militants held by the SDF if Ankara went ahead with the military operation.

Read also: Syria Weekly: Winter is coming to Al-Hol camp and children will be its victims

Abdulkarim Omar, the top Kurdish foreign affairs official, said this week that detention centres are not heavily fortified.

"They are only buildings... in the event of any security vacuum, these criminals could have an opportunity to break free," he said.

The official also said he was concerned about displacement camps, namely Al-Hol, the largest of the settlements, which he described as a "time bomb".

Security incidents have been on the rise in the crowded camp, which houses more than 3,000 IS families among its more than 70,000 residents, according to the Kurdish administration in northeast Syria. 

The thousands of foreign IS brides held in Al-Hol, are "as dangerous as the thousands of IS fighters being held in SDF detention centres", it said this week, noting daily stabbings, killings and attempts to break free. 

IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has urged followers to free detained jihadists and family members held at camps in Iraq and Syria, vowing "revenge" in an audio recording released on September 16.

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali last month said IS militants "have stepped up their regrouping efforts through women in the camp recently".

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