BEIRUT (AP) – U.S.-backed Syrian fighters said Saturday they have completed a 24-day sweep of a sprawling camp in northeastern Syria housing thousands of women and children linked to the Islamic State group.
Dozens of extremists have been detained and weapons confiscated in the operation at the al-Hol camp, which began on August 25, the US-backed forces said. The US-backed force said two of its fighters were killed in clashes with extremists inside the camp during the operation.
IS sleeper cells were also exposed preparing a new generation of militants – boys and girls being nurtured by an extremist ideology to eventually try to establish a second so-called Islamic State caliphate, the statement from the Internal Security Forces said. He added that the operation was assisted by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and members of the US-led coalition.
The operation at al-Hol in the north-eastern province of Hassakeh resulted in the release of two Yazidi girls from Iraq who were held as sex slaves years ago and four non-Yazidi women, who were chained and tortured.
“The operation was launched following increased crimes of killing and torture committed by ISIS cells against the camp’s inhabitants,” said the statement from the US-backed forces, using another acronym for the Islamic State group. Also, since the beginning of the year, extremists have killed 44 camp residents and humanitarian workers.
The statement added that 226 people, including 36 women, were detained in al-Hol – widely seen as a breeding ground for IS.
About 50,000 Syrians and Iraqis are crowded into tents in the fenced camp. Almost 20,000 of them are children; women, wives and widows of fighters ARE most of the rest.
In a separate part of the camp known as the heavily guarded annex, there are an additional 2,000 women from 57 other countries – believed to be the most destitute IS supporters – along with their children, who amount to around 8,000.
“ISIS relied primarily on women and children, as real resources directly related to ISIS leaders, to maintain and spread the extremist ideology of ISIS in the camp,” the statement said.
The camp was initially used to house the families of IS fighters in late 2018 when US-backed Kurdish forces successfully recaptured territory in eastern Syria from the militants. In March 2019, they captured the last villages held by IS, ending the “caliphate” the group declared over large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The United States and other nations have struggled to repatriate the families, but with very limited success.