WASHINGTON. D.C. — A report from US-media outlet politico detailed the US Department of Defense’s latest strategy for ensuring the Islamic State cannot mount a resurgence in North and East Syria: infrastructure development.
Enhanced infrastructure and services, argue the DoD, can prevent ISIS from freeing the 10,000 or more former combatants who are being held in deteriorating detention facilities around Syria.
ISIS forces have repeatedly attacked similar locations in recent months, most recently in January when they attacked a large prison in Hasakah. During the ensuing 10-day fight, several inmates managed to escape.
One defense officer, who wished to remain anonymous to talk openly about the issue, stated that, “We know that ISIS sees the detention centers, the detainee population, as the path to reconstitute its ranks. So even though ISIS doesn’t hold territory… the inspiration and the will to reconstitute is not going away.”
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are already carrying out adjustments on the ground while the Pentagon asks Congress for permission and funds to make some changes.
Some of this work, such as constructing guard towers and installing lighting to stop smuggling throughout the night, has already started. The long-term objective is to construct brand-new, specially designed institutions that are safer and ensure even rural areas have access to medical and other services. Although it is anticipated that the undertaking could take several years, the DoD is conducting feasibility studies for the building of these additional facilities.
This is only a Band-Aid for a much bigger issue, say US officials. Repatriating ISIS members and their relatives to their home countries is the long-term option. The prospect for quicker repatriations, however, remains low.
“If the repatriation efforts continue at this rate, we will be there for a decade or more,” the official stated. “So, the urgency of this problem, for which the State Department is in the lead, couldn’t be more dire.”
Also looming over the region is the threat of another Turkish invasion. A new Turkish military campaign into North and East Syria would undermine the advancements made in stabilizing the region.
For months, Ankara has been hinting at such an invasion while also inflaming tensions by attacking SDF positions and assassinating SDF and civilian leaders, including the head of the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ).
Since the summer, American officials have warned that such a move would be disastrous for the fight against ISIS. Top defense officials even traveled to Turkey earlier this year to speak with Ankara directly about their concerns.