Who is Stamping Out ISIS From Al Hol Camp?

Published April 12th, 2021 - 11:56 GMT
Al Hol Camp continues to be infested with ISIS fighters
A veiled woman looks back at Al Hol camp in Hasakeh governorate in northeastern Syria. (AFP/ File Photo)
The YPG has proved that it is incapable of managing the Al Hol camp in Syria, that was a terrible idea from its outset.

The Al Hol camp in Syria holds the world's largest concentration of Daesh families and suspected Daesh members, hosting around 70,000 people in total. The camp is mostly inhabited by the families of Daesh members that fought the last stand in the battle of Baghuz in Deir Ezzor, Syria. 

The ‘authority’ running the camp happens to be another terrorist organisation, the YPG, and has repeatedly proven to be incapable - Daesh has managed to establish a ‘mini state’ in the camp. The YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK terrorist organisation. 

Now, a major anti-terror operation inside the camp aims to restore order but is destined to be a waste of resources. Investments in the YPG to control Daesh and deal with prisoners and their families have gone down the drain. The idea that the YPG can deal with Daesh is a fantasy.

The formation of the Al Hol camp was a decision made during the fog of war and was a choice that essentially guarantees the survival of Daesh. 

In contrast to the general assumption that the YPG is a partner in the fight against Daesh, the YPG does not want Daesh to be eliminated. In the eyes of the YPG, Daesh is the sole reason driving Western backing (both politically and financially) and the fight against Daesh has enabled the YPG. The YPG does want to fight Daesh, but they do not want to eradicate it.

The YPG has taken several steps since the de-territorialisation of Daesh to ensure that Daesh remains high on the agenda so that Western support continues to flow. 

The first step was to gather the families of Daesh members along with civilians that escaped the fighting. By doing so, the YPG allowed Daesh to continue its reign over the civil population of Deir Ezzor. The concentration of Daesh members has allowed the group to maintain its network. In contrast to potentially establishing several smaller camps, this choice by the YPG ended up being a gift to Daesh.

The YPG has also systematically released Daesh prisoners with combat experience and Daesh families from camps in Syria. The YPG portrays these releases as the result of a tribal sponsorship. In reality, the alleged tribal sponsorships are a cover for the fact that the YPG releases Daesh members to keep Daesh cells alive. 

The correlation between increasing Daesh resurgence and attacks against the Assad regime in Syria’s desert, and the release of Daesh prisoners and Daesh families, is strong.

The most dangerous aspect of the YPG’s strategy of playing with fire is the indoctrination within Al Hol. The YPG has almost no control over the camp. Daesh has established its security structures inside the camp, its schools, and its administration. This structure runs the show, while the YPG watches from the sidelines. 

By having its own ‘mini state’ in the camp, Daesh has found a golden opportunity to train a new generation. The children in the camp undergo a curriculum set by Daesh and will know very little beyond the world Daesh has built around them.

However, when Daesh began killing dissidents inside the camp, the YPG had to acknowledge that the situation was unsustainable. Daesh had killed over 40 camp inhabitants and attacked several others in an attempt to assert its dominance inside the camp. Following this, the YPG conducted a large-scale operation to clean the camp from Daesh cells and confiscate weapons.

This operation was appreciated and propagated by CENTCOM as a step to counter Daesh, but in reality, it does nothing more than trimming Daesh control inside the camp. 

Following this operation, Daesh will continue to govern the camp but will be weakened for a short period. This back and forth can be expected to continue, until and unless every single resident resists Daesh.

For this and several other reasons, the YPG may have been a partner in the fight against Daesh but the YPG is neither capable nor willing to be a partner in eliminating Daesh. The situation inside the camp is troubling and promises a new comeback by Daesh at a time when the world will be focused on other global developments. 

Past experience in Iraq with the Camp Bucca prison has shown how dangerous such a concentrated accumulation of Daesh members can be. At that time, Daesh recruited former Baath members and created the foundation for its terror in Syria and Iraq.

In contrast to that time, the situation in Al Hol and the prisons controlled by the YPG that contain similar realities is an opportunity for Daesh to enhance its recruitment. Instead of gaining members from the outside, Daesh can establish a highly indoctrinated, trained, and organised generation by itself. 

That being said, the international community has to take the issue of Daesh prisoners and their families seriously. All aid and support to the YPG to deal with these people is an investment that will go to waste. The only solution to this is to work on taking power away from the YPG and establishing a new governance structure made up of the local Sunni Arab population that knows how to, and has the will, to eliminate Daesh. 

Just like the ousting of Nouri al Maliki was necessary to combat Daesh in Iraq, it is a prerequisite to replace the YPG in Syria to do the same.

Omer Ozkizilcik is an analyst for the SETA Foundation and is an editor at Suriye Gundemi.


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