Fighting intensifies between Syrian Democratic Forces and Daesh fighters in Hasaka

Dozens of jihadists attacked Ghwayran prison to free other militants. The operation is considered the most significant carried out by the terrorist group since its defeat in 2019
AFP/DELIL SOULEIMAN - Combatientes de las Fuerzas Democráticas de Siria (FDS)

AFP/DELIL SOULEIMAN  -   Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)

The situation in the northwestern Syrian town of Hasaka remains critical. After Daesh fighters attacked the Ghwayran prison to free other militants, clashes between the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) and the jihadists have escalated. 

Last Thursday night, Daesh fighters blew up a tanker near the Kurdish-controlled prison, while others attacked the compound with heavy weapons. The offensive killed 77 jihadists and 39 Kurdish militants, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH). The operation was the most significant carried out by the terrorist group since the fall of the "caliphate" in 2019. 

The Ghwayran prison holds some 5,000 jihadists from 30 countries around the world, including dangerous leaders of the organisation and minors. Many Western countries have refused to repatriate and prosecute their nationals, leaving them in the hands of Syrian authorities who are often unable to handle so many extremists.

AFP/FADEL SENNA  -   Un miembro de las Fuerzas Democráticas de Siria (FDS) hace guardia en una prisión donde hombres sospechosos de estar afiliados a Daesh son encarcelados en el noreste de Siria en la ciudad de Al-Hasaka
AFP/FADEL SENNA - A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stands guard at a prison where men suspected of Daesh affiliation are imprisoned in northeastern Syria in the town of Al-Hasaka.

"Daesh remains a threat to the region. The detention centre housing thousands of jihadist fighters and sleeper cells are a major threat. A solution must be found to keep the region stable and secure," Sinam Mohamad, a representative of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) in Washington, tweeted. 

During the attack and subsequent riot against security forces at the prison, 800 Daesh-related prisoners were released, although the SDF has already managed to capture more than 100.

The US, in addition to condemning the attack, supported Kurdish forces with air strikes, according to Pentagon press secretary John Kirby. Washington "recognises that the jihadist threat has not gone away, so we remain focused on that," he added.

AFP/DELIL SOULEIMAN  -   Un miembro de las Fuerzas Democráticas Sirias (SDF) hace guardia mientras acompaña a los soldados estadounidenses en el campo occidental de la ciudad siria nororiental de al-Malikiyah (Derik), durante una patrulla en las ciudades kurdas cercanas a la frontera con Turquía, el 7 de junio de 2020
AFP/DELIL SOULEIMAN - A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stands guard while accompanying US soldiers in the western camp of the northeastern Syrian town of al-Malikiyah (Derik) during a patrol in Kurdish towns near the border with Turkey, June 7, 2020.
"Daesh fighters are entering houses and killing people"

According to AFP news agency, at least 123 people have been killed in four days of fighting. Most of the casualties have been fighters on both sides, although 4,000 civilians have been displaced from the surrounding area, Hasakah governor Ghassan Khalil tells Middle East Eye. 

The London-based media outlet also reports accounts from some citizens who have fled their homes. "Daesh fighters are entering houses and killing people," a 30-year-old man told AFP. "We left because of the fighting. We were afraid for our children," added a 38-year-old woman. SDF spokesman Farhad Shami denounced the jihadists' use of civilians as human shields. 

In the same week as the prison attack, Daesh gunmen killed 11 Iraqi army soldiers in Diyala province. Separately, last month, a Daesh offensive killed 10 people, including seven Kurdish Peshmerga in northern Iraq. Also, Syria's Deir ez-Zor region has seen an increase in jihadist cell activity.

AFP/DELIL SOULEIMAN - Miembros de las fuerzas especiales de las Fuerzas Democráticas de Siria (FDS) dirigidas por los kurdos
AFP/DELIL SOULEIMAN - Members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Special Forces.

These attacks show that Daesh sleeper cells are more awake than ever. The Kurdish authorities have repeatedly warned that they do not have the capacity to deal with jihadist groups in the region. For this reason, the SDF and SDC have asked their international coalition allies for reinforcements to control the area and also the prisons. 

In this regard, Clara Moore, a Syria-based researcher at the Rojava Information Centre (RIC), urges the international community to "offer more serious support" to Kurdish allies in the region. "The attack in Hasaka makes clear the continuing threat posed by Daesh," Moore tells MEE.