Kurd­bro­kered deal al­lowed IS fighters to flee Raqqa: Re­port

SE­CRET AR­RANGE­MENT Fighters, in­clud­ing Pak­ista­nis and Euro­peans, left Syr­ian city ‘un­der gaze of Us­led troops’

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - HTINSIGHT - HT Cor­re­spon­dent let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com

NEW DELHI: Hun­dreds of Is­lamic State fighters, in­clud­ing Pak­ista­nis and Euro­peans, es­caped from the ter­ror group’s for­mer strong­hold of Raqqa in Syria as part of a deal bro­kered by Kur­dish fighters and backed by Us-led for­eign troops, BBC has re­ported.

A con­voy of al­most 50 trucks, 13 buses and more than 100 IS ve­hi­cles left Raqqa on Oc­to­ber 12, “un­der the gaze of the US and Bri­tish-led coali­tion and Kur­dish-led forces who con­trol the city”, the re­port said. Some of IS’S “most no­to­ri­ous mem­bers” and “dozens of for­eign fighters” were part of the con­voy and there are fears that the fighters could re­turn to their own coun­tries.

The Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF), an al­liance of Kur­dish and Arab fighters, told truck driv­ers who joined the con­voy that they were to take hun­dreds of dis­placed fam­i­lies from Tabqa town to a camp fur­ther north.

But when the driv­ers as­sem­bled the con­voy on Oc­to­ber 12, they re­alised “they had been lied to” as their “deadly cargo” com­prised “hun­dreds of IS fighters, their fam­i­lies and tonnes of weapons and am­mu­ni­tion”.

It was ini­tially un­der­stood that no for­eign fighter would be al­lowed to leave Raqqa alive. But for­eign fighters were able to join the con­voy, ac­cord­ing to the driv­ers. One driver told the BBC: “There was a huge num­ber of for­eign­ers. France, Tur­key, Azer­bai­jan, Pak­istan, Ye­men, Saudi, China, Tu­nisia, Egypt...”

The re­port said, “The deal to let IS fighters escape from Raqqa – de facto cap­i­tal of their self-de­clared caliphate – had been ar­ranged by lo­cal of­fi­cials. It came af­ter four months of fight­ing that left the city oblit­er­ated and al­most de­void of peo­ple. It would spare lives and bring fight­ing to an end. The lives of the Arab, Kur­dish and other fighters op­pos­ing IS would be spared.

“But it also en­abled many hun­dreds of IS fighters to escape from the city. At the time, nei­ther the US and Bri­tish-led coali­tion, nor the SDF, which it backs, wanted to ad­mit their part.”

Some of the for­eign fighters have spread out across Syria, and some have sneaked into Tur­key, BBC re­ported af­ter speak­ing to peo­ple “who were ei­ther on the con­voy, or ob­served it, and to the men who ne­go­ti­ated the deal”.

The SDF cleared Raqqa of me­dia so that the escape of the IS fighters from their base would not be tele­vised.

Fol­low­ing the BBC in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the Us-led coali­tion ad­mit­ted the part it played in the deal. Some 250 IS fighters were al­lowed to leave Raqqa, with 3,500 of their fam­ily mem­bers.

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