Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US-backed peshmerga fighters are denying reports that they approved a deal with the Islamic State last month to allow safe passage to hundreds of trapped ISIS and foreign fighters evacuating from Raqqa, the de facto capital of the so-called Islamic State in northern Syria.
The BBC on Sunday published a report, with photos purported to show the convoy that the SDF and IS made the agreement, with the blessing of the U.S.-led coalition, to allow hundreds of suspected IS fighters and their families escape from Raqqa.
The report claimed the deal enabled about 4,000 people, including hundreds of IS foreign and local fighters, to be evacuated by a fleet of trucks toward the border region in eastern Syria, and they then fanned out across the country and into parts of Turkey.
During an interview with VOA, U.S.-backed SDF spokesperson Mustafa Bali described the charges as a “misrepresentation” of an attempt by local tribal leaders to open a safe route for civilians caught in the fierce fighting for the city, which came under full SDF control last month.
“What happened was an effort by Arab tribes and residents of Raqqa to evacuate 3,000 to 5,000 civilians, mostly children and women, trapped in the city,” Bali told VOA.
“This was not done secretly, but announced to the public at that time,” he emphasized.
While SDF claims “a few” IS fighters may have mixed in with the civilians, it contrasts sharply with the BBC version of events that included reports of trucks full of weapons and ammunition, and fighters openly threatening drivers.
French army spokesman Patrik Steiger stated that they have special forces operating in Raqqa province, as well as aircraft operating in the area said the coalition could not take action against the IS convoy because of concerns about civilian causalities.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia