The BBC published an article yesterday by Quentin Sommerville and Riam Dalati, claiming that the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces had allowed ISIS fighters to leave Raqqa, with the implication that they are now free to undertake attacks in the rest of the region and in Europe. According to Sommerville and Dalati, this constitutes a 'dirty secret' and this article has gone viral. Sadly, it is a totally disingenuous reading of the situation, based on biased sources and fake news.
The Raqqa Civil Council - the body that is currently administrating the city following the SDF defeat of ISIS - openly publicised the agreement that was made between the Kurdish-led forces and ISIS towards the end of the liberation, an agreement that sought to minimise both SDF and civilian casualties. This included the fleeing of a number of ISIS soldiers, those who had not already surrendered. This story was widely-reported by both Kurdish fighters (British YPG volunteer Macer Gifford recorded it on his Facebook page) and the mainstream media, including the Guardian and Telegraph, a month ago.
The BBC report has made some sensationalist claims in its re-imaging of this story, stating that 'thousands' of ISIS fighters were escorted out of the city by drivers, co-ordinated by the SDF and US coalition, basing its story on the spoken word of the drivers who claim to have been cheated out of payment by the SDF, as well as ISIS fighters (who don't appear to be the most reliable of sources...). The story is false and defamatory. The Spanish YPG volunteer Arges Artiaga has explained what really happened:
"This is not a secret and the BBC haven't discovered anything. Daesh kidnapped 1000 civilians to use them as human shields. They threatened to kill them if we didn't allow them to leave the city. I was there when the Daesh commander told us that. The tribes from the area [who control the Raqqa Civil Council after the SDF liberated the city] made a deal with Daesh, not YPG or the coalition. The first request of the ISIS fighters was to go to Turkey. There was no way YPG would allow this. So we allowed them to leave to Deir Ezzor and hunt them there, without the women and children acting as human shields. The convoy was followed by the coalition planes the whole time. Deir Ezzor was also surrounded [by Syrian Arab Army and YPG forces] so they can't go anywhere."
The "thousands" claimed by the BBC article were human shields - including Yazidi sex slaves - that ISIS fighters, dressed in suicide belts, threatened to kill if the YPG did not allow them to leave. The YPG decided to allow this in order to save the lives of the women and children. Rather than allow them to go to Turkey, they transported them to Deir Ezzor, the town in Eastern Syria, where they will meet their certain death. To stop the hundred or so ISIS fighters killing a thousand civilians, they had no choice.
The BBC article is a scourge on the memory of the martyrs who died fighting to liberate Raqqa, to liberate it from ISIS who were enslaving and raping women, killing, pillaging, destroying swathes of Syria. The martyrs of Raqqa include Mehmet Aksoy and Jac Holmes from Britain, and young Turkish women like Ayşe Deniz Karacagi.
So why is the BBC publishing this anti-Kurdish propaganda?
Riam Dalati, one of the co-authors, is a well-known propagandist for the Turkish state and the 'Syrian Opposition'. A quick search through his Twitter feed shows his constant attempts to undermine the YPG, even when it requires defending ISIS, and seems to have a habit of ridiculing Kurdish fighters.
Now that Raqqa has been liberated, those hostile towards the Kurdish right to self-determination, equality, dignity, and liberty, are trying their best to smear the YPG, presenting them as dangerous rather than a liberating force clearing Syria of ISIS, something for which the entire world should be grateful. It is crucial that we support the Kurdish forces, acting as they are in a state of war to try and save lives and liberate the women and children who have borne the brunt of ISIS for the last few years.