American General: US-Backed Rebels Detaining ISIS Supporters And Doctors

(TFC)– In mid-October, US Army Major General James B Jarrard of a joint spec ops task force operating throughout Syria and Iraq attended a press conference. He made headlines for accidentally stating America has 4000 boots in Syria, not a publicly acknowledged 503. That, however, wasn’t the only interesting admission the spec ops commander disclosed.

Clashes have been fierce throughout Syria’s bloody war, and Raqqa is no different. Since the Islamic State entered the war, they’ve held the city as a stronghold. The militants dug in and took on relentless air strikes followed by sieges by foreign-funded rebel grounds.

Once the battles ended, an undisclosed number of ISIS affiliates surrendered to the Syrian Defense Force (SDF). The group is a US-supported rebel conglomerate of Kurdish, Arab, and other ethnic groups. Various rebel battalions and militias comprise its ranks including the Kurdish YPG. Although Jarrard was fickle with ISIS numbers, but did have good estimates for SDF casualties.

“Throughout the fight”, Major General Jarrard explained, “there have been over 1200 friendly KIA of SDF forces. So, specific to Raqqa, there are approximately 434.” About 905 US-backed rebels were wounded in Raqqa alone. Major General Jarrard stated SDF fighters took prisoners they believe were affiliated with Daesh.


“So some — a lot of those are — continue to be detained by the SDF in their facilities in northeast Syria.  There were a lot of ISIS that were considered ISIS because of their relationship with the ISIS — the — Daesh.  But a lot of them were not necessarily fighters.  They were in administrative positions, working in hospitals, helping feed the large number of Daesh on the battlefield.”– Major General James B. Jarrard


Most of these individuals, local Syrians, were turned over to their respective tribal leadership. All western forces did, according to Jarrard, was record their biometrics for future tracking. It’s currently unclear what will happen to the unidentified people SDF captured during the Raqqa battle. As Jarrard implies, some of them were medical personnel who treated wounded ISIS fighters.

What should be done from an international human rights perspective? Major General Jarrard was asked if the American government had any jurisdiction over the captured individuals. However, the military man was unable to answer the apparently criminal justice question. And, unfortunately, no representatives from the Department Of Justice were available to answer questions.

For now, the prisoners will be under SDF and tribal custody. How many might be executed for being accused of aiding ISIS is unknown.

The level of coalition oversight of SDF prisoners is also murky at this time. As it stands, military spokespeople won’t even admit troops are engaged in combat alongside allied rebel groups. Some of these US-supported militias have been linked to war crimes and gross abuses reminiscent of ISIS. Their ability to accurately differentiate between willing supporters and those forced to help the militants is also in question.

Will there be any distinction at all? Or will all those accused of supporting the enemy be killed under tribal law? The question is a pressing one, especially for captured medical personnel who may have maintained an overall neutral position. Will they too be punished for supporting ISIS by treating wounded fighters? Can any be turned over to the Assad Regime?

Major General Jarrard didn’t directly answer journalists when asked how SDF will monitor and contain sleeper cells, AKA sympathetic locals. The question was posed by two journalists, one of which simply re-introduced the question after Jarrard swerved it. For what it’s worth, it is complicated to answer.

The SDF is a diverse force hosting fighters from various ethnic and ideological around the region. Among them are Kurdish and Arab militias, some of which have been speculated to have links with groups regarded as terroristic. Exactly which SDF battle group is maintaining and transporting prisoners after the Raqqa fight is unknown. Thus, it’s difficult to speculate what treatment the prisoners may endure. Each faction may have its own unique cultural and operational policies for ISIS detainees.

Syrian war.
Image Source: Freedom House, Flickr, Creative Commons

Some of the captives may inevitably find themselves in US custody. JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) has conducted kill-capture raids throughout Syria since the war arose. Occasionally these operations lead to the capture of human detainee’s, as well as electronic intelligence. Detainees essentially disappear after entering clandestine custody.

While Major General Jarrard states Americans have a limited role, exchanges may occur. Especially if a high-value target was detained by rebels after clashes ceased. The coming weeks will determine whether international human rights observers will be able to access the prisoners, or learn of their fates. As of Major General Jarrards October press conference, they are fully under SDF jurisdiction.