DAMASCUS – Fears are growing that thousands of ISIS (also known as ISIL or Daesh) terrorists may escape from Syrian jails, as Kurdish prison guards are reportedly leaving their posts to gear up for fighting back the Turkish military that has started an operation against Kurds in Northern Syria.
The Turkish Army and affiliated Syrian militants kicked off an offensive against Kurdish fighter on Wednesday with massive air and artillery strikes, followed by a land invasion dubbed ‘Operation Peace Spring’. US officials confirmed to CNN that some of the Washington-allied Kurdish forces had already left their posts at various jails holding ISIS prisoners and headed North before the Turkish military operation began.
CNN reported that officials have long warned of the vulnerability of the “pop-up prisons” housing some 11,000 to 12,000 ISIS militants captured on the battlefield, 2,000 of whom are foreigners not from Iraq or Syria. The officials emphasized that the security of the facilities is very much in question and a “huge concern” as Kurdish personnel head to the front lines.
Later on Wednesday, the Kurdish militias claimed that a prison holding ISIS detainees was hit in a Turkish airstrike. Amid growing concerns over the escape of those prisoners, US President Donald Trump said Wednesday some of the most dangerous ISIS inmates had been moved to “other areas where it’s secure”.
Hours later, The Washington Post reported that the US military is taking custody of several dozen high-value ISIS detainees, including two British men accused of involvement in the militant group’s summary executions of American and other Western hostages.
The roughly 40 individuals being taken into US custody, all considered important ISIS figures, previously had been held in a constellation of small prisons in northeast Syria run by Kurdish forces who have been the Pentagon’s primary partner against the terror group in Syria.
A top Kurdish official stated on Thursday that Turkish attacks weaken the ability of security forces in Northeast Syria to guard prisons holding ISIS detainees. Badran Jia Kurd told Reuters that this may lead to the escape of militants and that the number of prison guards is reduced as fighting with Ankara intensifies.
Trump has for several times threatened to set prisoners from Europe who joined the terror group in Syria and Iraq free at the EU’s borders if they refuse to take back the captives. Thousands of people, including men, women and children from more than 50 countries, are lingering in detention camps in northeastern Syria, held by Washington-backed fighters.