American-backed forces near the Tabqa Dam held an unusual negotiation with ISIS soldiers over the weekend, after battling closer than ever to the main ISIS stronghold.
The weekend siege saw the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) take over the long-deserted Tabqa Dam. Soldiers also commandeered a nearby town and airfield at the time. It is one of the largest gains the SDF has managed to make in the last 12 months.
Although US Command is lauding the takeover as a significant win, they are also admitting that nearly 70 ISIS soldiers were allowed to leave with their lives ––– provided that they agreed to assist the SDF and U.S. soldiers with securing the area from bombs, traps, and any other dangers to both the civilian populace and soldiers fighting within it.
Specific requests included:
- Withdrawing completely from Tabqa City
- Dismantling all IEDs
- Dismantling all booby traps
- Surrendering heavy weapons
SDF forces also made a variety of other demands, but did not release information about them to the public.
It is extremely unusual for the U.S. military to negotiate with terrorists, but the SDF doesn’t hold such qualms. This is especially true when it comes to situations where civilian deaths may be high if leaders refuse negotiations.
Some analysts question the move, drawing parallels between it and other situations where ISIS fighters have been pardoned only to return and re-attempt attack again. Naysayers believe that the soldiers should have been either executed or at least detained on the spot. Given that the capture amounted to 70 soldiers, some experts believe the threat to both SDF/U.S. forces and civilians must have been dire for such a negotiation to occur at all.
Those people aren’t wrong; SDF forces claim that the move was specifically protective of local innocents. US Command clarified in a public statement that outlined the reasons for the negotiations clearly.
“The SDF accepted Isis’ surrender of the city to protect innocent civilians and to protect the Tabqa dam infrastructure which hundreds of thousands of Syrians rely on for water, agriculture, and electricity.”
Bashar al-Assad, the current President of Syria, has been accused of negotiating with ISIS terrorists in the past. This weekend’s negotiations only serve to further that picture, but there are good reasons to attempt to preserve the Tabqa dam. Behind it lies the Euphrates river, one of the largest water sources and defensive structures in the area — to lose the dam would immediately jeopardize water all the way to the city of Aleppo. It would also open up the city to potential infiltration and could set the attempt to thwart ISIS back significantly.
The American Pentagon has called the dam a “key coordination hub,” a reference to the fact that seizing it “disrupts Isis operations in Raqqa and their ability to defend the city and plan and execute external attacks against the West.”
A spokesperson from the Pentagon clarified, “With its seizure, the coalition has prevented a potential humanitarian disaster and ensured local citizens will continue to receive the dam’s basic services.”
It wasn’t immediately clear exactly what, other than their lives, the ISIS fighters were offered to retreat. The SDF did claim that any terrorists who could be safely hit while fleeing were eliminated.