Belgium in the safe zone: Brussels ready to reclaim its ISIS members from the SDF
Belgium and other European countries are preparing to evacuate their citizens accused of joining ISIS from detention camps in northeastern Syria, via the safe zone recently announced by Turkey along the border.
Belgian officials said on Friday, October 18 that they would try to take advantage of a five-day ceasefire between Turkish and Kurdish forces to retrieve nationals linked to the terrorist organization, according to the Guardian.
The Guardian said it learned that other European countries, including France and Germany, are also looking at ways to take advantage of the window announced by US Vice President Mike Pence to take back women and children, but these countries did not announce it clearly or officially.
Meanwhile, Britain's position remains unclear as to whether it is prepared to reconsider its policy of ignoring its 30 or so citizens held in Syria, although its allies’ decision to move quickly is likely to increase pressure on the English government to do so.
On the other hand, Kurdish guards abandoned one detention center, which allowed up to 800 detainees, including members of ISIS, to escape. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that nine French women with alleged links to ISIS were among the fugitives, and it is also believed that two Britons have also fled.
Turkey has declared a ceasefire to force Kurdish groups to return from the border, while the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said it was withdrawing from Turkey's alleged safe zone, although the group's leaders said they would not retreat from other parts of the province.
Instead, as part of a deal reached, the Kurds agreed to have Syrian regime forces return to the country’s northeast, a factor that has added another layer of uncertainty to the issue of ISIS detainees.
There were reports of sporadic shelling in a safe zone between the cities of Tal al-Abyad and Ras al-Ain, but the ceasefire took effect on Friday.
Turkey envisions that the area it has controlled for the past 10 days will give it a buffer against Kurdish forces. Turkey has fought a long insurgency by Kurds along its border areas, which serve as a center for Syrian Arabs exiled in Turkey who want to return home.
European countries have shown little interest in reclaiming the foreign ISIS militants, although they have been exploring how to return women and children. France has already returned about a dozen children, and some countries have said they would be willing to do the same if mothers and their children reach the consulate, which is almost impossible without consular assistance.
This increases the likelihood that ISIS will return. Indeed, the SDF does not appear able to secure the thousands of ISIS fighters in its custody, nor can it keep tens of thousands of family members at Al-Hol refugee camp under tight security and without international support.