Hundreds of foreign Daesh fighters allowed to leave Raqqa: BBC

A fighter of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) carries a weapon as he stands near a military vehicle in Raqqa, Syria, on October 16, 2017. (Reuters)
Updated 14 November 2017

Hundreds of foreign Daesh fighters allowed to leave Raqqa: BBC

JEDDAH: On Oct. 17, a US-backed alliance of Syrian fighters took full control of Raqqa, the de-facto capital of Daesh’s self-styled caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq, following a four-month assault.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured Raqqa with the help of the US-led coalition airstrikes, and — with US Defense Secretary James Mattis describing the fight against Daesh as a war of “annihilation,” the assumption was Daesh soldiers would not be allowed to leave Raqqa alive.
“Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa. We are not going to allow them to do so,” Mattis said on US television back in May.
However, a BBC report, “Raqqa’s Dirty Secret,” reveals that hundreds of battle-hardened foreign militants and their families were allowed to leave Raqqa under an evacuation deal.
“We took around 4,000 people including women and children — our vehicles and their vehicles combined,” the report quotes a lorry driver as saying. “When we entered Raqqa, we thought there were 200 people to collect. In my vehicle alone, I took 112 people.”
According to the BBC report, the convoy included 10 truckloads of weapons and ammunition.
“We didn’t want anyone to leave,” Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the Western coalition against Daesh, told the BBC. “But this goes to the heart of our strategy, ‘by, with and through’ local leaders on the ground. It comes down to Syrians — they are the ones fighting and dying, they get to make the decisions regarding operations.”
Along the route, many people told the BBC’s reporters they heard coalition aircraft, sometimes drones, following the convoy.
According to the report, due to the collapse of the so-called Daesh caliphate, smugglers are having a field day.
“In the past couple of weeks, we’ve had lots of families leaving Raqqa and wanting to leave for Turkey,” a smuggler operating on the Syria-Turkey border, told the BBC. “This week alone, I personally oversaw the smuggling of 20 families. Most were foreign but there were Syrians as well.”
He said he now charges $600 (£460) per person and a minimum of $1,500 for a family.
As Turkey has increased border security, the work has become more difficult, another smuggler explained: “In some areas we’re using ladders, in others, we cross through a river, in other areas we’re using a steep mountainous trail. It’s a miserable situation.”
An alternative route for those fleeing Raqqa is to go west to Idlib, which the report describes as “a haven” for “countless” Daesh fighters and their families. Foreigners including Britons, other Europeans and Central Asians have made it out, the report claims. The costs range from $4,000 (£3,000) per fighter to $20,000 for a large family.
According to a French member of Daesh interviewed by the BBC, a group of French Daesh fighters have escaped Raqaa and headed to France, where they intend to carry out terror attacks “in what would be called ‘a day of reckoning.’”

With Hodeidah airport liberated, Saudi Arabia-led coalition accuses Houthis of targeting civilians

Updated 11 min 38 sec ago

With Hodeidah airport liberated, Saudi Arabia-led coalition accuses Houthis of targeting civilians

  • UAE commander confirms Hodeidah airport in Yemen is liberated
  • Houthis have been accused of breaking international law by targeting civilians

JEDDAH: Fighting spread to civilian areas of Hodeidah on Wednesday as coalition forces drove toward the port area after driving the last Iran-backed Houthi militias out of the city’s airport. 

Coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki said they had fully recaptured the airport and were now destroying nearby Houthi fortifications. He accused the group of placing tanks inside residential areas.

“Hodeidah port is operating as normal and the movement of ships is normal,” Al-Maliki said. “We have humanitarian and development plans for when we liberate the city.”

Many civilians are now fleeing the city. “The streets are almost empty, deserted,” one said, with most heading for Sanaa, Raymah and Wusab, in Houthi-controlled areas inland.

A Coalition commander also confirmed the liberation of Hodeida airport in a video posted by UAE state news agency WAM.

“The airport was completely cleared, Thank God, and is under control,” the coalition commander for the Red Sea coast, Abdul Salaam Al-Shehi said speaking in Arabic in the video posted on Twitter.



Though the coalition has pledged to try to avoid battles in crowded urban neighborhoods, the Houthis were well dug into Hodeidah to protect the key supply line to the core northern territory they control, including the capital, Sanaa.

Most humanitarian aid to Yemen comes through Hodeidah port, but it is also a conduit for the supply of weapons and ammunition from Iran to the Houthi militias, including missiles used to target Saudi Arabia. 

The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, said the “liberation of Hodeidah is the beginning to ending the war."

“The choice in Yemen is between the state and militia, between order and violence, between peace and war,” he said.

At least 156 Houthis and 28 soldiers were killed in the fight for the airport, according to Hodeidah hospital sources. That raised the death toll in the week-old battle for the city to 348. No civilian casualties have yet been confirmed.

On June 13, Yemen’s army and its coalition allies launched their offensive to clear Hodeidah of rebel fighters who have held it since 2014. The airport is disused but housed a major Houthi base just inland from the coastal road into the city from the south.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths held four days of talks in the rebel-held capital Sanaa in a bid to avert an all-out battle for the city but flew out on Tuesday without announcing any breakthrough.