HASAKA, Syria – US and Kurdish forces battle ISIS fighters in Northeast Syria on Saturday, in the fiercest urban fighting involving American troops in Iraq or Syria since the fall of the self-proclaimed ISIS group in 2019.
Fighting has spilled over into residential areas in Hasaka, Syria, near where Kurdish forces are trying to subdue the last ISIS fighters barricaded in a prison during a week-long siege.
Several dozen bodies, some wearing orange prison overalls, were seen Saturday being carried away by Kurdish militia near al-Sinaa prison, an indication of the scale of the fighting. recently.
An official with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish militia, said clearance operations were continuing in the Ghweran area around the prison in search of IS cells. The Kurdish-led counter-terrorism force backed by American special operations operators went door-to-door in the narrow alleys of the neighborhood in the majority Arab city.
Kurdish forces hurled flash grenades at homes they believe ISIS fighters are hiding as residents gather on the streets.
This battle round began eight days ago after an ISIS attack on the prison, which holds more than 3,000 ISIS members and nearly 700 incarcerated minors.
The SDF said about 30 ISIS fighters surrendered on Friday, but the remaining fighters in the prison are believed to be holding underage prisoners as human shields.
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Farhad Shami, an SDF spokesman, said: “We think there are Cubs of the Caliphate with them, when it comes to children being forced to become fighters by ISIS.
“They are using those children to prevent our forces from conducting serious military operations,” he added.
The SDF gave conflicting information about the siege. On Wednesday, they announced they had regained full control of the prison after the US launched air strikes and sent armored combat vehicles to help retake the complex. On Thursday, it became clear that fighting with gunmen barricaded in prison buildings continued.
By Saturday, there were growing signs that the battle was much fiercer than initially reported.
At the edge of the Ghweran neighborhood, where the prison is located, journalists showed The New York Times what appeared to be at least 80 bodies being transported in a pickup truck from the direction of the prison and piled up on the street. The Kurdish fighters lifted them one by one into the shovel of a yellow front wheel loader, transferring them to a 40-foot gravel truck for burial.
Some of the bodies wore orange prison jumpsuits while others wore civilian clothes, also worn by inmates at the detention facility. Almost all the corpses were intact and tumor-free, many of their faces and bodies blackened with soot.
A distraught boxer yelled at a Times photographer not to take pictures.
“We know this isn’t true, but there’s a lot of it,” he said.
Hasaka, in a Kurdish-led breakaway region in Rojava, is besieged by hostile Syrian forces and the Turkish-backed army that is occupying northwestern Syria.
The region is grappling with existential security threats, lack of infrastructure and near financial collapse. Foreign countries that refused to repatriate ISIS fighters and their families, leave Rojava became a breeding ground for the remnants of the self-proclaimed ISIS organization, which includes thousands of accused fighters and tens of thousands of their family members.
Local authorities in Rojava have long warned that they do not have the resources or capacity to run safe prisons and detention camps.
The US maintains about 700 troops in Rojava as part of the US-led coalition against IS. But until the prison surrounded the American army most perform relatively routine tasks that avoid Russian military presence in the same region.
The SDF said Saturday that 13 of its fighters were killed retaking the prison and defending the area, though that number is likely higher. It has not released figures on the number of prisoners killed in the fighting.
An official with the US-led coalition, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said it would take time to determine how many IS fighters have been killed in the recent fighting.
SDF officials said prisoners under the age of 18 had been moved to a new location. The minors were brought to Syria at an early age with their parents.
An official with the YPG, the main Kurdish faction, said most of the ISIS fighters still barricaded in the prison surrendered Friday night after Kurdish-led forces stormed the building.
“They told us they surrendered and then one by one rushed out and put their guns on the ground,” said Siyamend Ali, YPG communications director. He said some people have belted themselves out.
Hasaka has been locked down since his prison break on January 20. Shops are closed and temporary housing complexes housed families displaced by fighting. In some areas there was no electricity or running water for more than a week.
In the Ghweran neighborhood on Saturday, a group of men and boys stood in an alleyway down the street from US and Kurdish armored vehicles.
“It’s an unbelievably bad situation,” said one worker identified only by his name, Mohammad, because he was afraid to talk about ISIS. “The neighborhood hasn’t been completely cleared yet, and ISIS is using the rooftops to jump from house to house.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/30/world/isis-prison-syria.html US forces return to combat as allies struggle to subdue ISIS fighters