BAGHDAD – U.S. ground forces have joined the fight to regain control of a prison in northeastern Syria where Islamic State militants are holding hundreds of boys hostage, the Pentagon says. on Monday.
After four days of US air strikes, the war became the largest known American engagement with ISIS since the demise of its so-called caliphate three years ago.
Hundreds of Islamic State Fighters makeshift prison attack in Hasaka, Syria, on Friday in an attempt to free their imprisoned comrades in one of the group’s boldest attacks in the area in recent years.
The prison siege, which holds about 3,000 suspected IS fighters and nearly 700 boys, has developed into a hostage crisis with ISIS fighters still holding about a quarter of the prison and using boys as human shields.
The makeshift, overcrowded prison has long been the target of a The Rise of the Islamic State. Housed in a converted technical college, it is the largest of several prisons in the area, housing thousands of fighters after IS defeated territory in 2019.
The US-backed force that oversees the prison, the Syrian Democratic Forces, has complained for years that it lacks the ability to operate it safely.
The SDF says they recaptured one of the prison’s three buildings in a dawn raid on Monday.
An SDF spokesman said about 300 Islamic State fighters had surrendered but ISIS had threatened to kill the boys if the coalition continued to attack the prison.
“We have several reports that ISIS is threatening to kill all minors if we continue to attack them,” said spokesman Farhad Shami.
Aid group Save the Children said it could not independently confirm casualties but had received audio testimony indicating the children were dead and injured.
Consequences of the civil war in Syria
After a decade of fighting, many Syrians wonder if the country can ever come together again.
In a voice recording obtained by Human Rights Watch on Sunday, a boy identifying himself as a 17-year-old Australian said he was injured in an air strike but no care was available. medical care.
The Pentagon says the coalition has sent armored Bradley fighting vehicles to support the SDF forces, representing the first time US ground forces have joined the war. A union official said the vehicles had been shot and fired again.
John F. Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters in Washington: “We have provided limited, strategically located ground support to support security in the region. US military officials say the Bradleys are being used as barricades while the SDF tightens ropes around the prison.
The US has also carried out air strikes by Apache helicopters over the past four days to try to break the siege, killing several prisoners.
US troops are part of a remnant of a US-led military coalition kept in Syria to assist in the fight against ISIS and protect oil facilities. There are currently about 700 US troops in northeastern Syria, mostly operating from a base in Hasaka, and another 200 near Syria’s border with Jordan.
Shami said that 30 SDF fighters were killed in the operation to retake the prison, and about 200 ISIS fighters and prisoners who joined them in an escape attempt have been killed since Friday. It is not clear how many prisoners escaped.
The siege of the Sinaa prison in Hasaka proves that the Islamic State is still capable of waging a coordinated military campaign, despite the defeat of the US-led coalition and Kurdish-led forces three years ago. .
It also highlights the plight of thousands of foreign children brought to ISIS by their parents in Syria, who have been held for three years in camps and prisons in northeastern Syria, and abandoned by their own country. .
The prisoners in Hasaka included 12-year-old boys, including Syrians, Iraqis, and about 150 non-Arab foreigners. Some were transferred to prison after they were deemed too old to be in detention camps holding families of Islamic State suspects.
The director of Save the Children of Syria, Sonia Khush, said that babysitters are responsible for their safety. But she also blamed foreign governments for not repatriating detained citizens and their children.
“The responsibility for whatever happens to these children also lies on the doorstep of foreign governments who think they can abandon their children’s citizens in Syria,” Ms. Khush said. “The risk of death or injury is directly related to these governments’ refusal to send them home.”
At its height, the Islamic State held territory the size of Britain, including Iraq and Syria. An estimated 40,000 foreigners, including children, have come to Syria to fight or work for NGOs.
Thousands of them brought small children – too young to understand and too young to make choices. Other children were born there.
When ISIS’ last piece of ground in Baghuz, Syria, fell three years ago, the surviving women and children were placed in detention while suspected militants and 10-year-old boys were taken away. put in prison.
The main detention center for ISIS families, Al Hol, stuffy, overcrowded and dangerousWith not enough food or medical services, not enough guards, and an increasingly radical part of the detainees, terrorists terrorized the other inhabitants of the camp.
When the boys at the camp became teenagers, they were usually transferred to the Sinaa prison in Hasaka.
Those detained there, including minors, are herded into overcrowded cells without access to sunlight. According to prison guards in Syria’s impoverished separatist region known as Rojava, there is not enough food and little medical care.
When they reach the age of 18, these young people are placed in prison apartment blocks, where wounded ISIS fighters sleep three people in one bed. None of the detained non-Syrians have been charged or brought to trial.
While the Rojava government operates a rehabilitation center, it only has room for about 150 detainees. When they finished the course, the Syrians were released but the non-Syrians were sent back to prison.
“We help them build prisons, train staff, run the best prison system possible, but they don’t,” said Anne Speckhard, director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism. get what they need. . “The prisoners lay on top of each other.”
Thousands of ISIS recruits come from Europe, but most European countries, citing security concerns, refused to repatriate their citizens, in addition to the orphans. Some have disenfranchised citizens detained in Syria for joining ISIS.
“As long as it stays here that’s what people want,” Speckhard said of countries that refuse to repatriate their citizens. “” We don’t want it to come through here. “
Human rights activists have compared the prison to the US detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as a place where suspects can be warehoused and forgotten.
The State Department said on Monday that the siege underscores the need for international financial support to improve security at the prison.
“It also highlights the urgent need for countries of origin to repatriate, repatriate, reintegrate and prosecute, where appropriate, their nationals detained in northeastern Syria,” the ministry statement said. Diplomacy said.
Jane Arraf report from Baghdad ;, Sangar Khaleel from Erbil, Iraq; and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Hwaida Saad Reporting contributions from Beirut, Lebanon.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/24/world/middleeast/syria-prison-isis-hasaka.html US Army Joins Kurdish-led Forces in ISIS Prison Attack