BBC, citing sources on the ground, reports that US jets monitored a long convoy carrying Daesh militants and their families, along with weapon-laden trucks leaving Raqqa, after signing a deal with the YPG.
Hundreds of Daesh militants with trucks full of weapons left the Syrian city of Raqqa during a battle with the YPG. This happened as the incident was being monitored by the US-led coalition, according to reports by the BBC on Monday.
Raqqa was the first big city Daesh captured in early 2014 and declared it as its de-facto capital. The group planned its operations from there for its operations across the Middle East and Europe.
It was also the last stronghold for Daesh, with the fall of the city being a major blow to the group that has already lost much of its territory in Syria and Iraq this year.
Driving Daesh out of the city caused major confrontations as the group showed strong resistance, but heavy bombardment by the US-led coalition forced the group to strike a deal with the YPG so it could leave the city. But what led the YPG to sign the deal? The BBC report doesn't specify the answer to that question, and the SDF has not yet issued any comments.
SDF, which is dominated by YPG militants and is backed by the US in Syria, has been fighting against Daesh since June to take control of Raqqa.
YPG is the Syrian affiliate of the PKK, a group designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU. It has been fighting the Turkish state for decades and has left more than 30 thousand people, including civilians, dead.
For this reason, Ankara strongly opposes US support for the group. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim repeated his country's concerns when he visited Washington last week. "Where else have we seen this in the world … using one terrorist organisation to defeat another terrorist organisation?” he said.
There were reports of the secret deal between the YPG and Daesh in the first week of October, days before Daesh was defeated in the city two weeks later.
According to the BBC, who spoke to the sources from Raqqa and has the convoy's videos obtained from the SDF members, Daesh was allowed to leave the city under two conditions as part of the secret deal reached with the SDF: No foreign fighters would leave the city and no weapons, except “personal ones,” would be taken out.
“Despite an agreement to take only personal weapons, IS [Daesh] fighters took everything they could carry. Ten trucks were loaded with weapons and ammunition,” the BBC reported, citing eyewitness accounts of one of the truck drivers who took Daesh out of the city.
The US confirmed reports, said it "respects"
In a more shocking statement, the truck driver said that some of Daesh’s most-wanted terrorists and all foreign fighters also left the city with the convoy which was “monitored by a US fighter jet from the air."
The jet dropped illuminations, flames to light up the road ahead for the convoy, the BBC said, adding that the convoy included almost 50 trucks, 13 buses and more than 100 of the Daesh’s own vehicles.
Despite denying any US involvement in the evacuation, Eric Pahon, US Department of Defense Spokesman on Iraq and Syria, confirmed the secret deal between the US-backed SDF and Daesh to Anadolu Agency. He added that some US officials were present at the discussions, they disagreed to let armed men join the convoy, but the screening and searching of the militants who left Raqqa was done by the SDF.
But he didn't give any details on where the militants were allowed to go.
Pahon said the agreement was part of a “local solution to a local issue” and “the central priority here was the protection of civilian lives, and the arrangement was reached by our partners and their local affiliates.”
“We may not always agree fully with our partners, but we respect their resolving their own problems,” Pahon said.
Another official from the Pentagon Ryan Dillon, Spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the US-led coalition against Daesh, confirmed BCC's report with a Twitter post saying "It was never a secret" and even though they did not "fully" agree, they "respected" the decision.
Was never a "secret." The Coalition issued press releases 10 and 14 Oct, spoke with several outlets, to include BBC Radio on 14 Oct. This was a local solution to local issue. Coalition did not fully agree, but respected our partners decision. pic.twitter.com/7LY0ON7E2M— OIR Spokesman (@OIRSpox) November 13, 2017
Below is the press release issued on October 14:
Iranian-backed militias in Iraq receive US support
As details of reports on the secret agreement in Syria continue to come to light, US lawmakers have started an investigation on evidence revealing Iranian-backed militias in Iraq receive US support. This comes as the Trump administration adopts a policy against any co-operation with Iran.
At least six militia groups who are operating under the Iraqi army and have direct ties with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) are said to have benefited from US training programs and US-made arms, the Washington Free Beacon said, citing US lawmakers.
"The State Department should not be making common cause with the IRGC, [Iranian commander] Qassem Soleimani, the [Iranian] Quds Force or Shia militias," Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis said.
"These groups were responsible for killing hundreds of US troops in Iraq during our operations there last decade. Congress needs to get the facts about the relationship between our own State Department and these nefarious actors,” DeSantis said.
He has pictures showing Iranian-backed militias in Iraq using American-made M1A1 Abrams, saying using them requires direct training from US forces.
Reports on alleged US support for Iranian-backed militias came after a month when the US Treasury Department announced it expanded sanctions on the IRGC, accusing it of "supporting terrorism." Tehran denied all US allegations.
It is no secret that US troops have been training Iraqi forces in the fight against Daesh, and the Iranian-backed militias are now legally a part of the Iraqi army.
A US military official, who reportedly spoke to the Washington Free Beacon said, "If we receive reports that US-origin equipment is being misused or provided to unauthorised users, we engage the Iraqi government in conjunction with the US Embassy to address any confirmed issues — up to the highest levels, if necessary."
According to the Washington Free Bacon, some sources accused senior Obama administration officials, especially the special envoy of the president in the fight against Daesh Brett McGurk, of co-operating with the IRGC against Daesh, as "the primary drivers of this ongoing policy."