After months of bloody, hard fighting, the Syrians trying to take back their territory from the Islamic State wanted the fighting to be over. Especially so in the self-styled “caliphate” of Raqqa. The Syrians entered into a deal with ISIS to allow their fighters and families to escape Raqqa. The agreement was supposed to forbid foreign fighters from escaping and allow only personal belongings, but ISIS quickly reneged on that, taking all of their foreign fighters as well as loading trucks with arms and ammunition.
The Kurdish-led SDF announced that the convoy would not be televised and only a few dozen ISIS fighters would be allowed to leave. But the BBC has uncovered, with photos, that the numbers were much, much higher, perhaps as high as 4000. The convoy was six kilometers long with 50 trucks, 13 buses and over 100 of ISIS’ own vehicles.
They might have been helping the fighters escape, but the Arab drivers were abused the entire route, they say. And threatened.
“They said, ‘Let us know when you rebuild Raqqa – we will come back,’” says Abu Fawzi. “They were defiant and didn’t care. They accused us of kicking them out of Raqqa.”
A female foreign fighter threatened him with her AK-47.
Another French fighter for the Islamic State escaped to Idlib where he intends to stay but had an ominous warning about the allowing of foreign fighters to escape.
“There are some French brothers from our group who left for France to carry out attacks in what would be called a ‘day of reckoning.”
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, somewhat improbably, continue to maintain that no deal was done.
And this may not even have been about freeing civilian hostages. As far as the coalition is concerned, there was no transfer of hostages from IS to coalition or SDF hands.
And despite coalition denials, dozens of foreign fighters, according to eyewitnesses, joined the exodus.
The deal to free IS was about maintaining good relations between the Kurds leading the fight and the Arab communities who surround them.
So, in an effort to minimize the killing in Raqqa, the deal to allow hundreds of fighters and thousands of family members to leave Raqqa may have averted bloodshed in Syria for the short term, but as their actions showed, they will continue to bring terror in other parts of the world. How steep will the cost be elsewhere?
To read the entire article from the BBC, click here:
Photo courtesy Wikipedia