Wounded and alone, children emerge from last Daesh enclave

1 / 2
Women and children wait to be searched by members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after leaving the last Daesh holdout of Baghouz, in the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province on March 1, 2019. (AFP / Delil Souleman)
2 / 2
Women and children wait to be searched by members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after leaving the last Daesh holdout of Baghouz, in the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province on March 1, 2019. (AFP / Delil Souleman)
Updated 02 March 2019

Wounded and alone, children emerge from last Daesh enclave

  • Some of the children are foreigners whose parents brought them to be raised under Daesh rule
  • The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces plan to hand over the children to aid groups

DEIR EZZOR, Syria: Hareth Najem fled Daesh’s last enclave in eastern Syria wounded and alone. The Iraqi orphan’s family had died two years earlier in airstrikes across the border in Al-Qaim region.

“I had two brothers and a sister. They all died, and then I was by myself,” Hareth told Reuters, tears filling his eyes. “My little sister, I loved her a lot. I used to take her with me to the market.”

Lying in a cattle truck beside another injured boy at a desert transit point for US-backed forces, he huddled under a blanket. His face was covered in dirt and the side of his head wrapped with bandages covering wounds incurred days earlier.

Hareth was 11 years old when Daesh carved out its proto-state in Iraq and Syria, killing thousands of civilians and attracting an array of enemies that have fought from the air and on the ground to uproot the militants.

Now 16, he was among the children swept up this week in the civilian evacuation of Baghouz, the last shred of land under the militants’ control where they are on the brink of defeat at the hands of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Some of the children are foreigners whose parents brought them to be raised under Daesh rule, or child fighters conscripted into what the group dubbed “cubs of the caliphate.” Others, including members of the Yazidi minority, were enslaved by the militants.

Many have seen their parents die in the fighting or be detained by rival forces. As Daesh faces territorial defeat, their fate remains uncertain. The SDF investigates all men and teenage boys arriving from Baghouz to determine possible Daesh links.

 

‘These kids have nobody’

Around 20 children crossed the frontline on their own this week, including Iraqis, Syrians, Turks and Indonesians, said SDF commander Adnan Afrin. The fathers of some were identified as Daesh militants and arrested immediately.

“These kids have nobody. They need somebody to take care of them, to provide mental health support,” said Afrin, adding that some had gone hungry for a long time. The SDF plans to hand over the children to aid groups, he said.

Hareth said his family had been running a market stall when Daesh overran their town and they had no links to the group.

After his family was killed in an aerial bombardment, he crossed into Syria with other Iraqis who feared Shiite militias advancing against Daesh would take revenge on them — a fear that other Iraqis have cited as their reason for entering Daesh-held Syria.

Hareth said he tried to avoid the militants and denies attending their schools or receiving military training. Their morality police would sometimes arrest and whip him.

“They gave speeches at the mosques, jihad and whatnot,” he said. “I was scared of them. My whole family died because of them.”

When he reached Baghouz, he worked in a field in return for a room to sleep in. He tried saving enough money to go home, but said the militants stopped him.

Hareth was wounded last week when a shell fell near where he was standing along the Euphrates River, injuring his ear, hand and stomach. He wants to get medical care and return to relatives still in Iraq.

“I want to go look for them ... When I get better and my body recovers, when I can walk,” he said. “I want to go back, to become a young man again, to build a future again.”


US lawmakers set measure opposing Trump on Syria troop withdrawal

In this file photo taken on September 8, 2019 US troops walk past a Turkish military vehicle during a joint patrol with Turkish troops in the Syrian village of al-Hashisha on the outskirts of Tal Abyad town along the border with Turkish troops. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2019

US lawmakers set measure opposing Trump on Syria troop withdrawal

  • Senate and House aides said lawmakers were working on legislation to impose stiffer sanctions on Turkey, hoping to force Turkish President Erdogan to halt his military campaign in northeastern Syria

WASHINGTON: US Democratic lawmakers, joined by some of President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, introduced a resolution on Tuesday opposing Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from Syria, the latest sign of deep disapproval in Congress of his action.
“We have always maintained that, while certainly needed, a sanctions package alone is insufficient for reversing this humanitarian disaster,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement introducing the resolution.
In addition to Pelosi and Schumer, the resolution was led by Representatives Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Mike McCaul, the committee’s top Republican.
It also is backed by Senators Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Todd Young, a Republican member of that panel.
Senate and House aides said lawmakers were working on legislation to impose stiffer sanctions on Turkey, hoping to force Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to halt his military campaign in northeastern Syria.
Several sanctions bills were introduced in the Senate and House, supported by Democrats and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, before Trump said he would impose sanctions.
Trump announced a set of sanctions on Monday to punish Ankara, and a senior Trump administration official said on Tuesday that Washington would threaten more sanctions to persuade Turkey to reach a cease-fire and halt its offensive. The measures — mainly a hike in steel tariffs and a pause in trade talks — were less robust than financial markets had anticipated. Trump’s critics derided them as too feeble to have an impact, and the Turkish currency recovered.