US pullback could boost Islamic State in Syria

BEIRUT: The American pullback from parts of northeastern Syria could help breathe new life into the Islamic State group if fighting erupts between the Kurds and Turkey.
Syrian Kurdish authorities are already struggling to guard IS fighters captured during the long U.S.-backed campaign against the militants and to keep a lid on IS supporters and family members thronging displacement camps. Their hold will suffer even more if they are fighting Turkey.
The White House has said Turkey will take over responsibility for the thousands of imprisoned fighters. But it is not clear how that will happen, if it all, given that the Kurdish forces are Turkey’s nemesis.
Turkey is sending troops along the border in preparation for an offensive against the Syrian Kurds. Ankara has said it wants to impose a zone of control potentially 30 kilometers (19 miles) deep that would stretch the length of the border. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have vowed to fight back.
Here is a look at what is at stake and why IS stands to gain. Angered by the sudden pullback of U.S. troops, Kurdish officials sounded the alarm that, to fight any Turkish assault, they will have to divert their forces away from guarding IS prisoners. That raises security concerns at a time when the Islamic State group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has called on followers to do all they can to free captured fighters held in jails and families living in camps. Kurdish authorities run more than two dozen detention facilities, scattered around northeastern Syria, holding about 10,000 IS fighters. Among the detainees are some 2,000 foreigners, including about 800 Europeans.–Agencies