- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 13, 2019

Hundreds of Islamic State supporters attacked guards, stormed the gates and escaped a detention camp in northeast Syria on Sunday, according to Kurdish officials who warned that similar incidents are likely to follow as Turkey forges ahead with its military invasion.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said that as many as 950 Islamic State supporters, including some wives and widows of the terror group’s fighters, had fled the camp in Ain Essa. That figure could not be immediately confirmed.

There are reportedly as many as 12,000 people held at the camp.

Both the SDF and U.S. military officials have warned that Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria could result in the escape of ISIS soldiers. The SDF, a key American partner in the years-long fight against the group, is currently responsible for guarding captured ISIS fighters.

But the Kurdish-led SDF says it must pull personnel from prison facilities in order to battle the Turkish military, leading to the increasing likelihood of mass prison breaks.

“The guarding is very weak now,” said SDF spokesman Marvan Qamishlo, according to Reuters.

President Trump last week pulled about 50 U.S. special forces personnel from key buffer zones along the Syria-Turkey border. Critics argue that removing those troops essentially gave Turkey a green light to invade, though the president and top Pentagon officials have publicly opposed the Turkish invasion.

Turkey considers elements of the SDF to be terrorists and has vowed to remove what it views as a threat along its border.

Critics of the president’s decision, including many Republicans, have said that an Islamic State resurgence is likely as the SDF can no longer guard prison camps or conduct effective military operations against the group.

U.S. military officials have stressed that it is now Turkey’s responsibility to ensure ISIS prisoners and their supporters do not escape, but it’s unclear whether Ankara will make that a priority.

“Right now, it’s Turkish responsibility to secure those prisoners,” U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told reporters at the Pentagon last Friday.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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