The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are still keeping the world safe from the global threat from ISIS — a year and a half after President Donald Trump announced the fall of the “caliphate” in March 2019.
Not only are the SDF and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) still detaining the captured fighters and supporters of the former “caliphate,” preventing them from waging further violence. They are also resisting occupation by the Turkish military and Turkish-backed militias, which have enlisted scores of former ISIS fighters. Some Turkish-backed militia members are even still flying the ISIS flag. The White House has recently underscored that the ISIS threat in North and East Syria is a national emergency for the United States.
More than 70,000 ISIS detainees are being held by the SDF, awaiting a fair trial on the charge of killing Syrians. The SDF and AANES stand ready to give each detainee a fair trial, but the region lacks the monetary and human resources to hold trials. The AANES recently released thousands of ISIS prisoners who faced lesser charges, and has continued successive waves of releases of those who do not “have blood on their hands.” These SDF and AANES detentions remain unaided by the international community, despite frequent calls for support for the job of keeping ISIS extremists contained until justice can be served.
The world is still one prison break away from an ISIS resurgence. This threat worsened after Turkey invaded North and East Syria in October 2019, imperiling the detention facilities. At that time, several prison break attempts were thwarted by SDF soldiers and other AANES personnel.
Well before the US presidential election, President Trump issued a statement on the continued threat. In the October 8, 2020 statement, the White House extended for one more year its declaration of a state of emergency related to ISIS terrorism in Syria. This state of emergency had initially been declared by Executive Order Number 13894, dated October 14, 2019. Under US law, the state of emergency status helps provide the legal basis for US troops in North and East Syria, the provision of resources, and government and diplomatic efforts. General Mazloum Abdi Kobani, SDF Commander, tweeted, “We are grateful President @realDonaldTrump extended Executive Order 13894 to prevent another Turkish invasion and ensure Turkey upholds its commitment to a ceasefire.”
The statement from the White House says, “The situation in and in relation to Syria, and in particular the actions by the Government of Turkey to conduct a military offensive into northeast Syria, undermines the campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, endangers civilians, and further threatens to undermine the peace, security, and stability in the region, and continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
It couldn’t be more clear that Turkey’s military invasion and occupation undermines the fight against ISIS. The Turkish intervention not only undermines that fight, it chooses the side of terror. There are a large number of former ISIS fighters who are now part of the occupying force in North and East Syria, with the Turkish military or Turkish-backed militias.
A recent report by the Rojava Information Centre details 40 cases in which Turkey and Turkish-backed militias have incorporated former ISIS fighters and officials into their occupying forces in North and East Syria. The report contains names, aliases, and photos of individuals who were known to be part of the ISIS “caliphate” who now have positions from foot soldier to emir in the occupation of North and East Syria. These are only the cases that are known.
The report further shows that many of the same policies, practices, and objectives that ISIS sought are being followed in Turkish-occupied areas. This shows that ISIS and the Turkish-backed militias or “Syrian National Army” (SNA) are quite similar in their ideologies, tactics, approaches to minority groups, and other qualities. For example, the report observes that while under ISIS women are “treated as second-class citizens, abused, enslaved, and raped,” under the Turkish-backed militias, women are “treated as second-class citizens, abused, kidnapped, and raped.”
If the continued presence of ISIS were not obvious enough, in the Turkish-occupied city of Sere Kanîyê, Turkish-backed militia members recently rallied in the city with ISIS flags, and video shows members marching through the city singing jihadist songs.
ISIS is still alive and well, openly pursuing its mission in the regions occupied by Turkey. The SDF remains on the frontlines, fighting ISIS terror, to protect the world from its brutality. The “caliphate” may have been defeated, but the fight continues.