Mazloum Abdi, General Commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), warned on Friday that the Islamic State (ISIS) is planning to attack the notorious al-Hol camp in northeast Syria (Rojava) if Turkey launches a new offensive against the SDF, based on intelligence shared by the global coalition against the group.
Turkey has in recent months renewed threats to carry out a fresh military operation against the SDF in northern Syria’s Manbij and Tal Rifaat towns in a bid to complete the 30 kilometer “safe zone” it began creating along its southern borders in recent years.
“If such an offensive takes place, the fight against ISIS will be badly affected. It will also put the prisons [holding ISIS members] at risk. We cannot protect them. The [security of] al-Hol camp will be at risk as well. We are well-informed that ISIS has plans for such attacks. If the [Turkish] offensive takes place, they [ISIS] will launch a extensive campaign against our forces,” Abdi told reporters during a rare press conference in Hasaka on Friday.
“We have been informed by the global coalition that ISIS is making preparations to attack al-Hol camp,” he added.
The SDF is the main ally of the US-led global coalition against the ISIS on the ground in Syria.
“The performance of our forces against ISIS has slashed by half. In May, we carried out 73 activities against ISIS but in June this was down to 30 activities,” said the Kurdish commander.
ISIS controlled swathes of Syrian land in 2014 but it was announced territorially defeated by the SDF in 2019. The Kurdish forces arrested thousands of ISIS fighters in the group’s last bastion, Baghouz, and resided their wives and children in al-Hol camp in Hasaka. The camp currently holds around 56,000 people – mostly ISIS-affiliated women and children of different nationalities – according to UN figures.
At least 25 people have been killed in the camp since the start of this year, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). ISIS sleeper cells have been blamed for most of them.
Kurdish forces have taken Turkey’s threats seriously and begun making preparations to encounter the Turkish army and its Syrian proxies.
Turkey has launched two offensives against Kurdish fighters in Syria since 2018. It alleges that the fighters are allied with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group fighting for the increased rights of Kurds in Turkey and is viewed as a terrorist organization by Ankara.
Abdi also told reporters that the SDF is well-prepared for a possible offensive although they do not want war.
Russia, Syria, and the United Nations have all called on Turkey to refrain from embarking on military escalation in northeastern Syria.
The United States has also opposed a potential operation by Turkey several times.
Dana Stroul, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, said during an online discussion organized by the US-based Middle East Institute late Wednesday that Washington opposes Turkey’s plan to attack Kurdish forces.
“At this point, we are opposed to this operation, and we have made very clear that that sort of operation near us is going to introduce concerns about US and coalition forces protection and concerns about backtracking on the progress we have made against ISIS,” she said.
Ankara and Moscow signed an agreement in October 2019 which was approved by the SDF as well. As per the deal, Turkey would suspend its military offensive which it launched earlier in the month in return of SDF’s withdrawal to 30 kilometers deep into the Syrian land. Turkey and the Kurdish forces have since blamed one another for failing to implement the agreement.
Abdi said that Turkey and its Syrian proxies carried out 1,630 artillery attacks against their forces, tried to seize land six times but were repelled, killed six civilians in seven drone attacks and conducted 22 drone attacks against the SDF in June.
“This proves that it violated the agreement,” he added.