President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria’s border with Turkey, giving the green light to a long-threatened Turkish operation into the region, has raised questions about the fate of thousands of suspected ISIL fighters detained in makeshift jails in the Kurdish-controlled area.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Washington’s main ally in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) group, have denounced the United States’s move as a “stab in the back” and pledged to defend the area from a Turkish assault “at all costs”.
On Tuesday, the Turkish defence ministry said it was ready to launch its operation aimed at creating a “safe zone” to create the conditions needed for the return of Syrian refugees and drive the Kurdish fighters, who it considers “terrorists”, away from the border area.
This came as SDF Commander Mazlum Abdi told NBC News that his forces tasked with securing the ISIL prisoners were leaving for the border to prepare for a battle against the Turkish army.
Watching over ISIL captives – estimated at at least 10,000 – was “a second priority”, he told the US-based network.