On October 17, 2017, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) declared the liberation of Raqqa in Northeastern Syria from ISIS to be complete. Since the defeat of ISIS, an estimated 130,000 women and children have been living in overflowing refugee camps, the largest of which is called al-Hol, where there are about 70,000 refugees.
Some of the women sent to al-Hol actually fought for the Islamic State — and their presence in the camp puts its more moderate residents at risk, Major General Alex Grynkewich, the deputy commander of the U.S.-led military coalition, was quoted as saying by the DNYUZ news website.
“So right now, there is a section of al-Hol that has a substantial number of what I would say are hardcore Islamic State ideologues who just happen to be women and happen to have their children with them,” Grynkewich said, estimating that there are about 20,000 suspected “hardcore ISIS” members in the camp.
The Canadian newspaper, the National Post reported — citing U.S. officials, lawmakers, and experts — that ISIS now exerts more influence and control than the few dozen SDF guards stationed at al-Hol. ISIS women have created a “morality police corps” inside the camp, enforcing sharia law and even conducting brutal executions, officials said. Additionally, reported the Post, ISIS is recruiting from the camp, smuggling fighters in and out and using it to plan attacks in other parts of Syria. If it’s not already effectively Caliphate 2.0, it soon will be, an unnamed official told the reporter.
“The IDP camp al-Hol is quickly becoming a mini-caliphate and a fertile recruiting ground for ISIS,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told the Post reporter. “The security footprint around the camp is incredibly weak, and the camp is being run by ISIS types under our very nose,” he said.
While Graham’s assessment of the alarming situation at al-Hol is undoubtedly correct, the South Carolina Republican's advice to fix the problem is suspect because he has a history of being a neoconservative interventionist. In a 2016 article in The New American, John F. McManus, president emeritus of The John Birch Society, noted: “Senator Graham has become an outspoken leader of the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party. He supports going to war without a required declaration.”
Fox News reported last December that President Trump found it necessary to hit back at Senator Graham “after the hawkish South Carolina Republican criticized the president’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.”
Graham and others have said that the SDF lacks the resources to maintain control of the refugee camps and proposed that the United States halt its withdrawal from Syria and actually send in more troops to maintain control.
But there is a more sensible and constitutional solution. Instead of maintaining a U.S. troop presence in Syria to hold up the faltering, anti-government SDF, why not pull out all U.S. troops and allow the forces of the Assad government to regain control of northeast Syria? They would most certainly do a better job of preventing ISIS activity in the region, including in the refugee camps, than the inept SDF troops are doing.
Photo of Syrian refugees: U.S. government