ISIS is using a Syrian detention camp to rebuild in Syria

ISIS is using both the desert and a massive displaced persons camp to regrow its network.

By
August 7, 2019 16:42
3 minute read.
ISIS is using a Syrian detention camp to rebuild in Syria

ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi makes his first appearance in five years.. (photo credit: screenshot)

ISIS is attempting a resurgence in Syria and it is using both the desert and a massive displaced persons camp to regrow its network, according to a new US report. The quarterly Lead Inspector General report released this week looks at how ISIS is attempting a resurgence in Syria at the time the US has sought to draw down forces.

The report looks at Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led coalition against ISIS. In Syria ISIS was largely defeated on the ground in March but it maintains supporters who fled to desert areas, or across the border to Iraq, or ended up in detention camps. The report identifies all these areas as looming problems.

The main US partners in Syria are the Syrian Democratic Forces. The US is investing in these forces to build them up so they can stabilize areas liberated from ISIS over the last four years. That includes training three components of these security forces, including the combat troops of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a provincial internal security force and other internal security forces. For a sparsely populated area the US is trying to bring these forces up to a total of 110,000. The SDF suffered 134 casualties between April and the end of June, the period the report covers. 1,600 fighters were recruited for the SDF.

The US praises its partners as being capable of unassisted raids, but notes they need more training. The US is equipping them primarily with small arms, such as AK-47s. The US has also reduced its airstrikes in Syria to only 29 in the last months. It used to be up to 29 in a single day during the height of the ISIS war.

The main concern for the US in Syria in terms of the ISIS threat is that a giant internally displaced persons (IDP) camp called Al-Hol, where some 70,000 people now live, is a perfect pool for ISIS networks. CENTCOM says that “ISIS will likely attempt to enlist new members from the large pool of internally displaced persons.” ISIS is creating a haven at this camp, many of whose members are women and children who fled the last ISIS-held enclave in Baghuz in March. In fact, many of these women are ISIS supporters, as revealed on recent videos where they harass security forces and even encouraged children to raise an ISIS flag.

The main US concern is that there simply are not enough security personnel for the camp. The US calls the security “minimal.” There is a lack of ability to even study the humanitarian situation and ISIS is exploiting the lack of security. The US must rely on “third-party” information about situations inside the camp, it has so few of its own assets on the ground. This is because the White House decided to withdraw from Syria in December and the US has sought to reduce its 2,000-strong force. Civilian, diplomatic or contractor personnel appear to be almost non-existence in eastern Syria, whereas in Iraq the US has hundreds of members of its embassy and thousands of contractors, according to the same report.

It appears Al-Hol camp is in such dire straits that there could be 45,000 ISIS supporters there and that the local security forces of the SDF, known as Asayish, only maintain perimeter security. Most of the people in the camp are either women or under age 18. Could this be the next generation of ISIS if someone doesn’t pay attention?

The report notes that there are around 2,000 ISIS fighters detained by the SDF of whom up to 800 are Europeans. These include hundreds from France and places like Germany and the UK. European countries, despite allowing their citizens to be radicalized at home and then travel to Syria, have refused to take back their ISIS members. This leaves them in limbo.

The overall picture in Syria is mixed. While the SDF have made extensive strides, the US report is clearly concerned that a drawdown could lead to an ISIS resurgence. The IDP and detention camps are a key to this puzzle. A map showing an archipelago of camps in northeast Syria reveals 16 sites. But some may be closed or abandoned. Nevertheless, the high value ISIS fighters and the Al-Hol camp are a major concern. US President Donald Trump warned last week that some might have to be released if Europe doesn’t take back its citizens. This comes amid tensions with Turkey which has threatened to launch an offensive into eastern Syria, further spreading the chances of destabilization that the US is so concerned about.


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