Suicide attack on Kurdish-US convoy in Syria kills 5: monitor

The attack on Hasakah killed five members of a Kurdish-led force who were accompanying US-led coalition troops. (AFP)
Updated 21 January 2019
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Suicide attack on Kurdish-US convoy in Syria kills 5: monitor

  • The suicide attack occurred on a road in Hasakah province, in the north east of Syria
  • The coalition confirmed the attack by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device

BEIRUT: A suicide car bomb attack on a military convoy in northeastern Syria on Monday killed five members of a Kurdish-led force accompanying US troops in an anti-extremist coalition, a monitor said.

The attack, claimed by the Daesh group, came less than a week after another deadly attack on US forces in Syria and a month after Washington announced a US troop pullout from the war-torn country.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said five fighters from the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were killed in the blast on a road in Hasakah province.

“A suicide attacker driving a bomb-laden car targeted a convoy of American forces accompanied by the SDF on the Hasakah-Shadadi road,” the Observatory said.

Shadadi lies to the south of Hasakah, capital of the eponymous province, which has been relatively spared by the war that erupted in Syria nearly eight years ago.

The coalition confirmed the attack by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, but said there were no US casualties.

“A combined US and Syrian partner force convoy was involved in an apparent VBIED attack today in Syria,” coalition spokesman Sean Ryan said on Twitter.

“There were no US casualties.”

The head of the Britain-based Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, said the attacker had plowed into an SDF vehicle.

Footage on Kurdish media showed a plume of grey smoke rising up from a narrow road flanked by dry land.

A witness told AFP the blast took place by a checkpoint held by Kurdish forces a dozen kilometers outside Shadadi as the US convoy drove past.

The witness said he heard planes fly overhead, before the area was completely cordoned off by Kurdish fighters.

The Kurdish Asayesh security forces said no one had died in the attack, which hit ten meters from a checkpoint outside Shadadi.

“A bomb-laden car driven by a terrorist tried to target a coalition convoy as it passed by, lightly wounding a female member of the Asayesh,” the statement said, reporting no other casualties.

Daesh propaganda channel Amaq claimed the attack on a joint US-Kurdish convoy.

The attack came less than a week after another attack on the US-led force and its local partners in the strategic city of Manbij.

Four Americans — two members of the military, a Pentagon civilian and a contractor — were killed in a blast that targeted a restaurant in the city center on January 16.

It was also claimed by Daesh.

The Manbij attack cost Washington its worst combat losses since it deployed in the war-torn country to combat Daesh, who established a self-proclaimed “caliphate” across swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Ten civilians and five SDF fighters were also killed in the Manbij attack.

The US Department of Defense had previously reported only two American personnel killed in combat in Syria, in separate incidents.

This month’s attacks targeting the US-led coalition and its allies follow US President Donald Trump’s shock December announcement that he had ordered a complete troop pullout from Syria, as Daesh had been “largely defeated.”

Trump and other senior US officials have since sent mixed messages about the pace and scope of the withdrawal.

Turkey has repeatedly urged Washington to make way for its own military plans in northern Syria, where the beleaguered Kurds are increasingly turning to the regime and its Russian sponsor for support.

The SDF is fighting to expel Daesh fighters from the remaining shreds of the extremist group’s “caliphate” in a small pocket of land in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.

Syria’s complex war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.


Daesh is down but not out, say fleeing families

Updated 23 February 2019
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Daesh is down but not out, say fleeing families

  • Hundreds more remain holed up in Baghouz, the last redoubt of the militants’ proto-state
  • Some evacuees say they would have stayed if it were not for the call from their leaders to leave

OUTSIDE BAGHOUZ, Syria: They were living in holes in the ground, with only dry flatbread to eat at the end. Those injured in an intense military campaign had no access to medical care, and those who were sick had no medicine.

Yet, if it were not for the call from their leaders to leave, they would have stayed. Such is the devotion of several hundred men, women and children who were evacuated on Friday from the last speck of land controlled by Daesh, a riverside pocket that sits on the edge of Syria and Iraq. Hundreds, if not thousands, more remain holed up in Baghouz — the last redoubt of the militants’ proto-state that leaders once said would stretch to Rome.

They include militants, of course, but also their family members and other civilians who are among the group’s most determined supporters. Many of them traveled to Syria from all over the world. And they stuck around as the militants’ control crumbled.

At least 36 flatbed trucks used for transporting sheep carried the disheveled, haggard crowd out of the territory to a desert area miles away for screening. 

They were the latest batch of evacuees from the territory following airstrikes and clashes meant to bring about the militants’ complete territorial defeat.

For now, the civilians are expected to be sent to a displaced people’s camp, while suspected fighters will go to detention facilities. Previous evacuations have already overwhelmed camps in northern Syria, and at least 60 people who left the shrinking territory have died of malnutrition or exhaustion.

In a dusty area surrounded by grass, women engulfed in black robes from head to toe and children in dirty jackets — many of them crying for food — formed one line. Men wearing tattered headscarves formed another. Foreign men were in yet a third.

One woman had given birth in one of the trucks. An old man was carried in a blanket by two others to the screening line.  A young girl sat under the shade of the wheel of a truck looking dazed, while another moved between the crowd, asking for food.

The evacuees included French, Polish, Chinese, Bengali, Egyptians, Tajiks, Moroccans, Iraqis and Syrians.

It is impossible to know if all are wholeheartedly behind the militant group or how many expressed support out of fear of reprisals. But many vehemently defended Daesh, arguing the group was down — but not out — and said they only left because of an order from the remaining leader in the area.

Some referred to the wali, the provincial leader, while others said the order was from the group’s top leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

It is not clear if Daesh leaders were in agreement. Amid the military pressure, reports have emerged of disagreements among them. The war monitor group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one Daesh leader was beheaded in recent days for urging civilians to leave.

All those interviewed gave nicknames or spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared for their safety.

“Baghouz maybe is the most difficult moments of all my life,” said 21-year-old Um Youssef, a Tunisian-French woman who came to Syria at 17 with her mother. 

Um Youssef — which means mother of Youssef in Arabic — sent her two kids and her mother out of the pocket last month and stayed with her husband.

She said she had no regrets and was at “peace,” describing the last few weeks as “the best” since she moved to Syria because they taught her life lessons.

It was hard to see how that could be from the hills overlooking Baghouz. A four-year international campaign has reduced the Daesh reign — which once sprawled over nearly a third of Syria and Iraq — to a tent encampment and a few homes in this village overlooking the Euphrates river.

An estimated 300 Daesh militants are besieged there, hemmed in by the river and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led militia spearheading the fight against Daesh following an intense push since September. Thousands of civilians have also poured into the area.

The presence of so many civilians— and possibly senior members of the militant group — in Baghouz has surprised the SDF and slowed down the expected announcement of the extremist group’s territorial defeat.

Recapturing Baghouz would mark an end to the militants’ territorial rule, but few believe that will end the threat posed by an organization that still stages and inspires attacks through sleeper cells in both Syria and Iraq and that has active affiliates in Egypt, West Africa and elsewhere. The group also has a presence online, using social media to recruit new members and promote its attacks.

In the past few weeks, nearly 20,000 people have left Baghouz on foot through the humanitarian corridor, but the militants then closed the passage and no civilians left for a week until Wednesday, when a large group was evacuated.

Among those evacuated Friday was a group of 11 Yazidi children. Thousands from the Yazidi minority were kidnapped by Daesh in Iraq in 2014, and are still missing.

In the dusty clearing where the evacuees were being screened on Friday, a 16-year-old mother of two from Aleppo said she has not had food for a couple of days, opting to feed her children instead.

A child said he has not showered in a month, and a woman from Tajikistan asked for a phone to call her mother. Frantic and in tears, a mother held out her pale and still toddler, screaming for help. Tears of hungry children rang through the open desert as SDF officials searched the evacuees’ belongings.

But of over a dozen people interviewed by The Associated Press, only four said they did not want to be in Baghouz.

They described living in holes dug in the ground with tents hoisted to protect against airstrikes. Some said they initially got lentil soup, but then only barely-husk bread was available— a green-brownish loaf of flatbread.

“We weren’t going to leave, but the Caliph said women should leave,” said Um Abdul-Aziz, a 33-year-old Syrian mother of five whose moniker means mother of Abdul-Aziz in Arabic. She was referring to Daesh leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

Her husband stayed behind to fight.

A few were critical. “Order or no order, I wanted to get out,” said Aya Ibrahim, an Iraqi mother who said she was unable to secure medicine for her children. “Many families died from airstrikes. Many kids died from hunger.”

The 16-year-old Syrian mother of two from Aleppo said she lost four husbands, her father, sister and two brothers. Um Mohammed said the last days have been hard, with food prices soaring and intensive bombings keeping them in hiding.

About 2 pounds of sugar went for nearly 30,000 Liras ($70), more than 30 times the price in other parts of Syria, while a liter of cooking oil cost 10,000 Liras. “I have not eaten in four days,” she said.

Then the order came for them to leave. But, for some, it is not the end.

Um Youssef, the French-Tunisian, said she has no plans or desire to return home in Tunisia, saying she would find her way to another Syrian city.

Daesh is over? Says who? asked a 14-year-old Syrian girl who refused to give her name. “Wherever you go there is” Daesh.