Kurd­bro­kered deal al­lowed IS fight­ers to flee Raqqa: Re­port

Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur) - - World - HT Cor­re­spon­dent let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com

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

Hun­dreds of Is­lamic State fight­ers, in­clud­ing Pak­ista­nis and Euro­peans, and their fam­i­lies es­caped from ter­ror­ist 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 now 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, the driv­ers said.

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 across the bor­der into Turkey, BBC re­ported after speak­ing to dozens of 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. The fight­ers left the con­voy in­side IS-held ter­ri­tory, some­where be­tween Markada and Al-Souwar.

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