After Trump lets hundreds of ISIL Leave Raqqa, Turkey Enraged

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

On Tuesday, Turkey lambasted the US and its largely Kurdish allies in Syria, the YPG, for having made a deal that allowed 250 Daesh fighters and all their children and relatives to flee from Raqqa.

Turkey’s prime minister Binali Yildirim said,

“The YPG terrorists let Daesh [terrorists] leave Raqqa with their weapons instead of eliminating them from the city. One terror group left Raqqa and another settled in. Is this your rational policy?”

Turkey views the leftist YPG as a branch of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), which is Turkey-based and seeking more autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds. The Syrian YPG has only distant ties to the PKK, however, and is mainly focused on Syria. Syrian Kurds, now backed by the US as the “Syrian Democratic Forces,” were the only local group of fighters willing to take on Daesh. With US air support and an influx of US weapons, they defeated it on the Syrian side of the border in Raqqa province. The Syrian regime only became interested in taking on Daesh once it seemed clear that otherwise the YPG would do the job and gain control over Deir al-Zor as well.

The BBC broke the bombshell report that the United States and its local allies worked out a deal with Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) in Raqqa, Syria, to allow them to depart. There were still 250 hardened fighters along with 3500 family members in the capital of the phony “caliphate.”

Raqqa had largely been reduced to rubble, but the 250 fighters could have continued, challenging and imposing high casualty rates on the largely Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces who were besieging the city.

The YPG made this deal, with US military officers in the room, after weeks of hard fighting had not resulted in the complete fall of Raqqa. It is also alleged that the Trump administration was impatient for the YPG Kurds to take over hydrocarbon resources in Syria, which they could not do if they remained bogged down in Raqqa, so safe passage for the ISIL fighters and their arsenal was the price of that strategy.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis had vowed to “annihilate” Daesh members in Syria, so that no foreign fighters went home to fight another day or to damage Western capitals. But apparently he acquiesced when he heard of the YPG plans.

The 250 trained and battle-hardened Daesh could go on to do substantial damage to Turkey or to their home countries (they included some foreign fighters as it turned out).

Related video:

Al Jazeera English: “Syrian army ‘liberate’ last ISIL stronghold in eastern region”

Posted in Featured,Syria | 10 Responses | Print |

10 Responses

  1. This is very interesting. It’s an ironic reversal of roles: a couple of years ago in Kobane, it was the YPG accusing the Turks of giving free passage to ISIS fighters…

    But the idea that the regime `only became interested in taking on Daesh’ because of the contest for Deir Ezzour is way overstated. What about the contest for Palmyra? It was seized by ISIS in May 2015; retaken by Assad/Russia in May 2016 (after which a Russian orchestra played there); briefly recaptured again by ISIS, & then by the regime. That was 2 years of straight fighting between ISIS & Assad+Russia — no US/SDF involvement.

  2. People in the region have the right to be angry, including Turkey, despite their own hypocrisy of letting ISIL terrorists get through and gain power in the first place.

    Decent folks would want most of these monsters to be caught and held accountable or be put down (I read a CTV News special feature on one young Yazidi woman who was an ISIS victim but made it to Canada as a refugee. It was just sickening, wished I hadn’t read it even though the article had a warning that it would be distressing to most readers). Unfortunately justice is unlikely going to happen for the majority of the victims who’ll have to witness many of these sick criminals getting away and integrating into different populations, either planning for the next attack or living their full lives freely.

    However, can’t fault those who are on the ground to cut deals to reduce as much bloodshed as possible, which included lives of children as well (could care less about some ISIL women, considering their own roles in the heinous crimes), though the intent was mostly on saving soldiers and manpower.

    • They also purchased bulk quantities of black market petroleum at discount rates from ISIS – even though they were a member of NATO.

      Turkey’s assistance to ISIS emanated from the fact ISIS was fighting Kurdish elements in northern Syria.

  3. Cole: “The Syrian regime only became interested in taking on Daesh once it seemed clear that otherwise the YPG would do the job …”

    Rubbish. The Syrian government could not take on Daesh while leaving foreign-armed rebels in the government’s rear. It’s the first rule of military strategy.

    • There were plenty of opportunities for Damascus to take on Daesh in the course of other nearby campaigns, and it systematically declined them in order to have Daesh become the face of the rebels.

      • Daesh had “marriage of convenience” with the Assad regime in the early years of the Syrian Civil War.

        It purchased Daesh oil and also was supplied from a HESCO natural gas plant manned by Russian engineers:

        link to

        Daesh had received Syrian government air support during clashes with other rebel forces and the Assad regime ceded territory to Daesh in the early years of the civil war.

        Only after the rebel forces lost control of the major population centers did the Syrian Arab Army directly engage Daesh with any serious degree of effort militarily.

  4. This was a pretty irresponsible move. Unlike President Trump or the British MP Rory Stewart, I do not believe that ISIS fighters should have been killed on the spot link to but I think that they should have been locked up and hopefully sent to some de-radicalization classes. All this shows that all the talk about some Western and Saudi-Israeli support for some of the terrorists was not very farfetched. There have already been some reports about Israel paying the salaries of Syrian rebels link to to create a buffer between Israel’s occupied Golan Heights and Syria, although Israel’s original rationale for occupying Golan Heights was that it would create a buffer between them and Syria.

    The point that you make about Trump’s impatience for the YPG Kurds to take over hydrocarbon resources in Syria is also very important and sinister. After the terrible devastation of the past seven years, Syria is in desperate need for reconstruction. Now, Trump wishes to deprive them of their own resources that would enable them to repair some of the massive destruction.

    • Points regarding Israel:

      (A) ISIS oil has been purchased by Israel after being delivered via Turkey to the Israeli port at Ashdod;

      (B) Israel has debriefed Nusra Front fighters receiving medical treatment in Israel for intelligence purposes;

      (C) Israel has benefitted from the Nusra Front and ISIS engagement of Hezbollah militarily – Hezbollah has lost 1,000 fighters killed in action in Syria.

      Al-Nusra Front has been designated as a foreign terror organization by the U.S. State Department and has been linked to at least 57 suicide bombings within Syria; it is not a group that any Western power should be giving material assistance to.

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