SDF operations in al-Hol camp: The “dismemberment plan”
Enab Baladi – Mamoun al-Bustani
The Internal Security Forces (Asayish) in northeastern Syria launched a security operation called “Humanitarian and Security” ten days ago to pursue Islamic State (IS) cells in the al-Hol camp, east of al-Hasakah, with the support of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-led International Coalition Forces.
In a statement announcing the launch of the campaign, Asayish said that the campaign was the second phase of the Humanitarian and Security operation after the camp had become a “permanent danger” that IS exploited in recruitment operations and the dissemination of its “inflammatory ideas.”
During the past two months, al-Hol camp has witnessed an upsurge in violence, crimes, and assassinations. According to the Asayish statement, the camp witnessed the killing of 44 people during the current year.
Arrests and removal of tents
In the latest statistical release on the results of the campaign during its first week, SDF said in a statement published through its media office that more than 50 percent of the camp had been combed and that 121 persons affiliated with the IS organization were arrested, including 15 women.
As mentioned in the statement, SDF and Asayish removed more than 100 tents on the grounds that they were “used as training sites and Sharia courts for torture and murder.” It also found 16 tunnels and trenches that were “used by cell elements to hide or flee the camp.”
The journalist at the Naher Media website concerned with covering news in the eastern region of Syria, Ahed al-Salibi, told Enab Baladi that the second phase of the security campaign in al-Hol camp followed the continued murders in the camp, especially over the past two months.
He noted that the camp has recently witnessed new methods of killing, such as slaying and killing after capturing for several days, then dumping the bodies in the sewage system and killing in broad daylight, prompting the camp’s administration to act in order to prevent a worsening of the security situation in the camp.
Al-Salibi considered that the launch of the second phase of the campaign at this time was not only linked to the increase in assassinations inside the camp.
He added that SDF has always focused on the issue of the al-Hol and Roj camps in northeastern Syria since the two camps were established after the declaration of victory over IS in March 2019.
According to al-Salibi, SDF will not abandon these two camps, even if only a limited number of people remain, so as to maintain its counter-terrorism rhetoric and keep them as a pressure card whenever Turkey tries to carry out a military operation in northeastern Syria.
The first phase of the Humanitarian and Security operation began in March 2021, with nearly 6000 participants from Asayish and SDF. It ended with the arrest of 117 people, some of whom were released after a while, while others remain missing to date.
Isolating camp sectors
Enab Baladi’s correspondent in al-Hasakah earlier quoted workers in humanitarian organizations operating inside the al-Hol camp as saying that SDF transferred some of the people it had arrested in said camp to detention centers in the city of al-Shaddadi, south of al-Hasakah, and another part to the Ghweran prison south of al-Hasakah city.
Said workers indicated that more than 50 of the tents removed were being used to teach children to read and write, thanks to individual initiatives from the camp’s residents.
According to the same sources, SDF removed the tents with the aim of dismembering the camp and opening spaces in it to facilitate its control of it and surveillance operations inside it.
On 1 September, the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper said that a study was being conducted by the camp administration and Asayish to isolate and separate the nine camp sectors, such as the one housing the families of IS members, which is subject to strict control.
The newspaper quoted a security source from the camp administration as saying that there were several factors preventing the isolation of the camp’s sectors, most notably the large geographical area, the rugged desert land, and population density.
The source stated that intelligence information had reached the camp administration, indicating that IS cells were seeking control over the entire camp. Therefore, studies are conducted regarding the way to isolate the camp geographically and separate its sectors.
Journalist Ahed al-Salibi told Enab Baladi that SDF is working to establish three checkpoints in the camp. However, this step could cost SDF a lot if it is unable to detect all IS cells in the camp, as these checkpoints will become easy prey for these cells.
Although SDF removed about 100 tents during the first week of the campaign, it did not resolve the issue of dividing the camp and setting up barriers inside it, according to al-Salibi.
Al-Salibi stated that, during the past two years, SDF released 13 batches of Syrians detained inside the al-Hol camp and five batches of Iraqis who were sent to the Jadaa camp in Iraq.
Regarding media reports that talked about Iraq’s intention to transfer all Iraqis in the al-Hol camp to its territory, al-Salibi said that several meetings had been held between SDF and the Iraqi side without a conclusion.
He pointed out that SDF would not extradite Iraqis in the camp to the Iraqi government without receiving something in return. As for the Syrians, some of them are released without any problems with the mediation and sponsorship of clan elders.
During the early days of the security campaign in al-Hol camp, two delegations from the international coalition and the United States visited the camp, according to the official website of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), on 31 August.
A member of the SDF General Command, Mahmoud Barkhdan, reviewed the results of the campaign with the two delegations headed by the Deputy Commanding General of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve of the international coalition, Brigadier General Karl Harris, and the US State Department Special Envoy to Syria, Nicholas Granger.
Barkhdan considered that there was an urgent need for such a campaign at this time. On the other hand, the two delegations affirmed continued support for the SDF in the fight against terrorism and the elimination of IS cells in the al-Hol camp.
During the meeting of the co-chairmanship of AANES’ Executive Council on 1 September, Granger said that his country was seeking a solution to the IS elements and their families in the al-Hol camp and that it was discussing with other countries the recovery of their nationals.
In another meeting with Kurdish party leaders in the city of Qamishli, Granger urged the Kurdish parties to return to dialogue and resolve the contentious issues between the opposing Kurdish National Council (KNC) and AANES officials.
Granger also reiterated his country’s rejection of any military operation that Turkey might launch against SDF-held areas in northeastern Syria.
The United Nations said last June that more than 100 murders occurred within a year and a half in al-Hol camp.
The al-Hol camp has 54,390 people, including 27,816 Iraqis, 18,483 Syrians, and 8,091 persons who are IS elements’ family members.
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