Hundreds of ISIS Affiliates Escape Syrian Prison Camp After Trump Insists Extremist Group Defeated

Hundreds of individuals associated with the Islamic State (or ISIS) have escaped from a detention camp in northeastern Syria, according to local officials, despite President Donald Trump's repeated reassurances that the extremist militant group has been successfully defeated.

At least 750 of the ISIS affiliates, including women and children, escaped from the Ain Issa camp, The Guardian reported, after rioting in the wake of a Turkish offensive, which moved forward after Trump acquiesced to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region last week.

The controversial decision from the White House has been slammed by leading Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington, who have argued that the withdrawal could lead to the resurgence of ISIS and embolden other U.S. foes, such as Iran and Russia, which are also involved in the Syrian conflict.

An additional five ISIS militants reportedly escaped from a different detention facility in Qamishli city earlier this weekend, according to Kurdish officials with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The U.S. military had previously been bolstering the Kurdish fighters in the war against ISIS, but the White House made a surprise announcement last Sunday that it would allow Turkey to move in and withdraw American troops from the region. Turkey and the Kurds have long been in conflict, and the decision has led many in Washington, as well as Kurdish leaders, to accuse the U.S. of abandoning a key U.S. ally.

Syria
Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, as seen from the Turkish border town of Akcakale, on October 13 in Akcakale, Turkey Burak Kara/Getty

Despite the significant backlash to his Syria withdrawal, Trump insisted on Thursday that ISIS was defeated and the U.S. no longer should be involved in the conflict.

"We've won. We've beat ISIS and we've beat them badly and decisively. We have no soldiers. The last thing I want to do is bring thousands and thousands of soldiers in and defeat everybody again. We've already done that," the president told reporters. Trump has claimed for months that the extremist group has been defeated, despite the assessment of analysts and top GOP lawmakers.

Even key Republican allies in Congress have opposed the president's assessment. GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who typically defends the president, has slammed Trump repeatedly and led the opposition to the controversial withdrawal.

"ISIS is not defeated. This is the biggest lie being told by this administration," Graham told Fox News last Monday.

Retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis, who previously served as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) Supreme Allied Commander, argued on Thursday that the withdrawal would allow ISIS to regroup. "Pulling them out will absolutely allow the reforming of that mass of Islamic State fighters," Stavridis said in an interview with MSNBC.

Retired four-star U.S. Army General John "Jack" Keane classified the assertion that ISIS had been defeated as a "myth" in an interview with Fox Business last week as well.

With the escape of ISIS militants and affiliates, concerns about ISIS regrouping will undoubtedly grow in Washington, as lawmakers have repeatedly warned that Trump's decision undermines national security while also harming relations with allies. At the same time, Trump has justified his decision by pointing out that Turkey and the U.S. are also allies. Ankara and Washington are allied through NATO.

At the same time, Trump has threatened to implement harsh economic sanctions against Turkey if its military targets the Kurds and allows ISIS fighters to escape. Both of those things have reportedly been happening since the Turkish forces have moved into Syria. Over the weekend, videos circulated appearing to show Turkish-backed Syrian forces executing Kurdish fighters. Reports also suggested that Kurdish civilians had been targeted.

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace confronted Trump's Secretary of Defense Mark Esper with the reports on Sunday. Esper responded by saying the U.S. didn't have the capability to confront Turkey militarily.

"The United States, first of all, doesn't have the forces on hand to stop an invasion of Turkey that is 15,000 strong," Esper said. He argued that the U.S. "didn't sign up to fight Turkey, a longstanding NATO ally on behalf of the SDF."

Hundreds of ISIS Affiliates Escape Syrian Prison Camp After Trump Insists Extremist Group Defeated | World