US troops join Kurdish-led forces in storming ISIS-held prison

BAGHDAD — U.S. ground forces have joined the fight to regain control of a prison in northeast Syria where Islamic State fighters are hol...


BAGHDAD — U.S. ground forces have joined the fight to regain control of a prison in northeast Syria where Islamic State fighters are holding hundreds of boys hostage, the Pentagon said Monday.

After four days of US airstrikes, the fight has become the largest known US engagement with ISIS since the fall of his so-called caliphate three years ago.

Hundreds of Islamic State fighters attacked the makeshift prison in Hasaka, Syria on Friday in a bid to free their comrades detained in one of the group’s boldest attacks in the region in recent years.

The prison siege, which houses around 3,000 suspected ISIS fighters and nearly 700 boys, has devolved into a hostage crisis with ISIS fighters still holding around a quarter of the prison and using boys as human shields.

The overcrowded makeshift prison has long been the avowed target of a resurgent islamic state. Housed in a converted technical college, it is the largest of several prisons in the region housing thousands of fighters detained following the territorial defeat of Islamic State in 2019.

The US-backed force overseeing the prison, the Syrian Democratic Forces, has complained for years that it lacks the capacity to operate it safely.

The SDF said it took over one of the prison’s three buildings in a dawn raid on Monday.

An SDF spokesman said around 300 Islamic State fighters had surrendered but IS had threatened to kill the boys if the coalition continued its assault on the prison.

“We have information that ISIS is threatening to kill all the miners if we continue to attack them,” spokesman Farhad Shami said.

Aid group Save the Children said it could not independently confirm casualties, but had received audio accounts indicating deaths and injuries among children.

In a voice recording obtained by Human Rights Watch on Sunday, a boy who identified himself as a 17-year-old Australian said he was injured in an airstrike but there was no medical treatment available.

The Pentagon said the coalition moved in Bradley armored fighting vehicles to support SDF forces, indicating for the first time that US ground forces were involved in the fight. A coalition official said the vehicles came under fire and returned fire.

“We have provided limited, strategically positioned ground support to assist with security in the region,” Pentagon spokesman John F. Kirby told reporters in Washington. US military officials said the Bradleys were used as barricades as the SDF tightened their cordon around the prison.

The United States has also carried out airstrikes with Apache gunship helicopters over the past four days in an attempt to break the siege, killing an unknown number of prisoners.

The US troops are part of a residual force of the US-led military coalition that has been kept in Syria to help in the fight against ISIS and to protect oil installations. There are currently about 700 US troops in northeastern Syria, operating primarily from a base in Hasaka, and another 200 near the Syria-Jordan border.

Shami said 30 SDF fighters were killed in the operation to take over the prison, and around 200 Islamic State fighters and detainees who joined them in an escape attempt had since been killed. Friday. It was not clear how many prisoners had escaped.

The Sinaa prison siege in Hasaka demonstrated that the Islamic State still has the ability to mount a coordinated military operation, despite its territorial defeat by US-led coalition and Kurdish-led forces a while ago. three years.

He also shed light on the plight of thousands of foreign children brought to the Islamic State caliphate in Syria by their parents, who were detained for three years in camps and prisons in northeast Syria, and abandoned by their own country.

Hasaka’s detainees include boys as young as 12, including Syrians, Iraqis and around 150 non-Arab foreigners. Some had been transferred to prison after being deemed too old to stay in detention camps that held families of Islamic State suspects.

Save the Children’s Syrian director Sonia Khush said those holding the children were responsible for their safety. But she also accused foreign governments of failing to repatriate their detained citizens and children.

“The responsibility for everything that happens to these children also lies with foreign governments who thought they could simply abandon their Syrian national children,” Ms Khush said. “The risk of death or injury is directly linked to the refusal of these governments to bring them home.”

At its height, the Islamic State held territory the size of Britain straddling Iraq and Syria. About 40,000 foreigners, including children, traveled to Syria to fight or work for the caliphate.

Thousands of them brought their young children – too young to understand and far too young to make a choice. Other children were born there.

When the last piece of the Islamic State caliphate in Baghuz, Syria fell three years ago, surviving women and young children were placed in detention camps while suspected fighters and boys of barely 10 years were sent to prison.

The main detention camp for ISIS families, Al Hol, is squalid, overcrowded and dangerouswith not enough food or medical services, not enough guards, and an increasingly radicalized segment of inmates who terrorize other camp residents.

When the boys in the camps become teenagers, they are usually transferred to Sinaa prison in Hasaka.

Detainees, including minors, are crammed into overcrowded cells with no access to sunlight. Food and medical care are insufficient, according to prison guards in the impoverished separatist region of Syria known as Rojava.

When they reach the age of 18, the youths are placed in the general prison population, where wounded ISIS fighters sleep three to a bed. None of the non-Syrian detainees have been charged with a crime or faced trial.

While the Rojava authorities run a rehabilitation center, it can only accommodate about 150 detainees. At the end of the course, the Syrians are released but the non-Syrians are returned to prison.

“We help them build their prisons, train their staff, make the prison system work as good as possible, but they don’t get what they need,” said Anne Speckhard, director of the International Center for Study. of violent extremism. . “The prisoners are lying on top of each other.”

Thousands of ISIS recruits have come from Europe, but most European countries, citing security concerns, refused to repatriate their nationals, with the exception of orphans. Some have withdrawn their nationality from their nationals detained in Syria for having joined the Islamic State.

“As long as it stays here, that’s what everyone wants,” Ms Speckhard said of countries refusing to repatriate their citizens. “‘We don’t want it to come here.'”

Human rights activists have compared the prison to the US detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as a place where suspects can be stored and forgotten.

The State Department said Monday that the siege highlighted the need for international financial support to improve prison security.

“It also underscores the urgent need for countries of origin to repatriate, rehabilitate, reintegrate, and prosecute, as appropriate, their nationals detained in northeastern Syria,” the State Department statement said.

Jane Arraf reported from Baghdad;, Sangar Khalil from Erbil, Iraq; and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

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Newsrust - US Top News: US troops join Kurdish-led forces in storming ISIS-held prison
US troops join Kurdish-led forces in storming ISIS-held prison
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