Escalating instability in northern Syria makes international action on Islamic State (ISIS) affiliates detained in the region ever more urgent, according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Extremism expert Devorah Margolin from the US-based think tank analysed the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria’s (AANES) recent announcement that they will begin holding trials for foreign ISIS militants, warning that the situation has become increasingly perilous.
Since the territorial defeat of ISIS in early 2019 the AANES has called on the international community to assist in the repatriation of ISIS militants and affiliates, but to little avail. Over 10,000 foreign ISIS nationals – from outside Syria and Iraq – are still detained in northeast Syria. “The AANES announcement in particular indicates that local frustration with the slow international response to this issue has come to a head,” the extremism expert said.
The recent announcement from AANES that they will hold “fair and transparent trials in accordance with international and local laws related to terrorism” for the ISIS-affiliated detainees could affect the Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) relationship with the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), Margolin warned. The SDF lead the fight locally against ISIS in partnership with the international anti-terror coalition.
Furthermore, the increased normalisation of the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria, exemplified recently by Syria’s re-admittance into the Arab league and their inclusion in quadrilateral talks with Turkey, Iran and Russia, potentially adds to regional destabilisation, Margolin said, stressing that it remains unclear what approach Syrian President Assad would take to the detainees if he were to gain a stronger foothold in the northern regions of Syria.
Turkey’s recent escalating attacks in northern Syria worsens tensions in the region, the analysis pointed out, increasing pressure on the SDF thereby decreasing its capability to apply resources to anti-terror operations, and heightening the urgency for the international community to take responsibility for holding the foreign ISIS detainees in northern Syria to trail or for repatriation. External and internal threats to the security of detention camps and prisons under the long-standing ISIS insurgency pose a continued destabilising factor, the expert reiterated.
The aftermath of the February earthquakes that devastated northeast Syria and southeast Turkey adds to the precarious regional situation, Margolin said.
“In the end, even effective repatriation will not solve all of the region’s problems. Yet simply leaving these individuals [ISIS affiliates] behind in Syria will create a much greater risk to the international community,” the report concluded.