Experts warn that any such move will have a disastrous impact on Turkey, the EU and the US.
The US-led coalition’s ally against Daesh, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has reportedly been holding internal discussions to release hundreds of imprisoned members of the extremist group.
According to the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights, ‘top officials’ of the SDF leadership met on Wednesday to debate the possibility of setting the prisoners free, a claim the SDF denies.
“If they are released, it’s a real disaster and major threat to Europe,” the New York Times quoted an anonymous source from the US-led coalition as saying. The source also confirmed the authenticity of the discussions. Daesh has launched numerous attacks against civilians across Europe from France, Germany to Turkey, leading to hundreds of deaths.
TRT World’s Syrian Kurdish sources also confirmed that the SDF has discussed the prisoner release since taking at least 1,100 Daesh fighters and their 2,000 relatives into custody, according to the reports.
Turkey has repeatedly warned Washington and its European allies about the unreliability of the SDF and the YPG, the Syrian wing of the PKK, which is recognised as a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the EU, and the US. But the US paid no heed and went ahead with its plan to back the armed group on the pretext of using them as a fighting front against Daesh.
Concerned about its border security, Turkey recently announced a military operation against YPG forces in northern Syria, asking the US to pull back its forces from the region and also stop backing the armed group. The YPG controls much of northern Syria.
A day after US President Donald Trump signalled an immediate withdrawal from northern Syria, Turkey announced the delay of the cross-border operation for some time.
If the YPG-led SDF ends up releasing Daesh militants, it will be yet another shocking example of the group’s unreliable nature.
After capturing Raqqa in October 2017, the self-proclaimed capital of Daesh, the US-backed SDF gave hundreds of Daesh militants a safe passage out of the city. During previous interviews in March, TRT World reported on the little-known working relationship between Daesh and the YPG, and how the two groups are prone to finding common ground to cope with changing conditions on the ground.
“There is such a threat [about releasing Daesh prisoners]. But they do not want to use it right now,” said one TRT World source. Despite Trump’s announcement of a troop withdrawal, the YPG still hopes to work with some Western countries like France, the source said.
“The current thinking in the YPG leadership is ‘if France supports us, we will continue to fight against Daesh,’” the source said.
The French foreign ministry appeared to provide some hope to the YPG-led SDF leadership. “In the coming weeks, France will endeavor to ensure the security of all US partners, including the Syrian Democratic Forces,” the ministry said in a statement on December 20, citing the fight against Daesh as the country’s priority.
There have reportedly been nearly 75,000 SDF militants funded, armed and trained by the US-led coalition in northern Syria.
“We and the partner states in the international coalition are talking with Washington about the timetable and conditions for implementing the decision to withdraw American troops engaged in combating Daesh in Syria announced by the president of the United States,” the French statement added.
YPG-Assad regime axis
In addition to France, which colonised Syria for several decades after the WWI, the YPG leadership is also seeking to reach some kind of understanding with the Assad regime, according to Syrian Kurdish sources.
They are negotiating the possibility of handing over the YPG-controlled areas to the Assad regime, if Washington completely withdraws from the region, sources said. “There was a meeting last week [between the YPG and representatives of the Assad regime],” sources added. “But they are yet to receive a concrete response from Assad.”
The YPG claimed ‘cantons’ or autonomous regions across much of northern Syria in 2012 after the Assad regime withdrew from the region.
TRT World previously reported that the withdrawal was orchestrated in an alleged deal between the YPG and the regime, setting forth conditions that the group would prevent any Kurdish support of the anti-Assad opposition.
The PKK, the YPG’s umbrella organisation, which has launched a three-decades long armed campaign against the Turkish state, and the Assad regime share a history of working in tandem. For two decades from the late 1970s, Syria provided safe havens and training camps for the PKK and its founding leader Abdullah Ocalan, who stayed in the country until 1998.
Nadya Ali Mousto contributed to this article