Newroz Ehmed: 285 cells smashed, 2323 ISIS members arrested after Baghouz victory

SDF General Command Member Newroz Ehmed said that the struggle against ISIS entered a new phase after the SDF liberated Baghouz, the last stronghold of ISIS, in 2019.

Newroz Ehmed, one of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) General Commanders, spoke to ANF about the 4th anniversary of the Baghouz (Baxoz) victory, their new struggle against ISIS and its outcomes.

Ehmed stated that the SDF engaged in a more effective struggle against ISIS after its defeat in Baghouz. “No matter how hard the Turkish state attempts to prevent our struggle, the SDF will continue its struggle until it liberates the occupied areas where ISIS members are located, and ISIS is completely defeated,” she said.

We are marking the 4th year of the Baghouz victory on March 23, 2019, when the territorial integrity of ISIS in the region ended. What would you like to say about it?

We are going through an important process, of course. The ISIS caliphate ended on this date. In the beginning, it was mostly thanks to our people in the region who had suffered a lot from attacks and violations. This victory in the spring created a new spring. It was also a very important day for the world. This victory did not only concern the people of the region, as ISIS posed a danger to the entire world. We commemorate those who contributed to this victory and paid a price.

This 'caliphate state' came to an end following the Baghouz victory. However, as we said before, ISIS ideology prevails. Many people from neighbouring countries and many countries around the world were affected by the presence of ISIS. They loved ISIS. ISIS sleeper cells in the region still exist. After the defeat in Baghouz, ISIS members and supporters mingled with civilians and hid out in the surrounding areas. For this reason, we stated at the time that operations against the secret cells of ISIS would continue. And we have achieved a lot to this end. After Baghouz, many ISIS leaders leading these main cells were captured and our operations are still ongoing.

After Baghouz, what stage did the fight against ISIS enter? What happened during this process? What is the latest situation concerning the operations against ISIS?

In the past years, large scale operations have been carried out against the sleeper cells and the areas where they have an influence. In some places, ISIS attacks were prevented. Our struggle has never stopped since Baghouz and has continued in various ways. Our balance sheet of operations over these years clearly shows this. The danger is not over, ISIS' presence in the region and its attempts to reorganize and the attacks of ISIS prisoners and their families still continue. Great struggles are being carried out for the control of these regions. The joint struggle by the SDF and the Internal Security Forces continues under the leadership of our intelligence forces.

Based on the intelligence information we obtained, dozens of operations were carried out in many regions including the Hol Camp, Til Berak, Til Hemîs, Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor, Tabqa, Sirîn, where ISIS reorganized itself. Especially after the attacks on Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî, ISIS mercenaries carried out several major attacks in the region, including on Hesekê’s Sinaa and Raqqa prisons. During this period, there were 352 terrorist attacks by ISIS. As a result of the operations carried out with the International Coalition and Internal Security Forces, 2323 ISIS members who organized attacks and helped mercenary groups were captured, 397 of whom were dead. The interrogation of the arrested ISIS members is still ongoing.

With the latest arrests, how many ISIS members in the region have been arrested? What is the situation of the arrested ISIS members? With whom do you work in partnership for the security of prisons and camps? What has the SDF done about it?

With the latest operations we have carried out, the number of arrested ISIS members in our regions is over 10 thousand. Those captured in Baghouz are still arrested in prisons. There are prisoners from 60 countries. We carried out several major operations in 2023, when we received information that there would be attempts to free the detained ISIS members. Many reasons, such as the presence of other forces in the region and the economic situation, increase the risk for a resurgence of ISIS.

As the SDF and the Autonomous Administration, our biggest burden is the detained ISIS members. The prisons in the region were not very secure before and the prisoners are scattered across the region due to the current situation. The expenses for health, clothing, security, etc. for the detained ISIS members have been transferred to us. The international anti-ISIS coalition has taken only ten per cent of this burden, the rest is left to us. Although international organisations have come to the region, especially after the attack on the Sina prison in Hesekê, this support only meets a very small part of the current needs. Actually, each country should have taken back its own nationals. However, this has often not happened. The proceedings against the ISIS criminals in the region are not easy to conduct; an international court must be established. However, no step has been taken in this regard. Most of the arrested ISIS members and their relatives are Iraqi nationals. There are very tough negotiations with the Iraqi government on their transfer. According to the situation in our region, these detainees are a big burden for us. Our region is constantly bombarded by planes and with artillery. The burden of these prisoners cannot be borne by us alone, because they are a danger to the whole world.

What contribution have the society and other institutions and organisations in the region made to this fight?

Our successful fight against ISIS is thanks to our martyrs and the people in the region who have paid a high price. ISIS has committed many massacres, killing many civilians. We have drawn our strength and resilience from the fact that society, with all its components, is behind us. The autonomous administration with all its institutions has also strongly supported us in every way. There is a strong consensus in society to defend itself. As a result of the joint struggle of all social and military institutions, our struggle is getting stronger and collective attention is preventing attacks.

What is the contribution of the US-led international coalition?

In the process that began in Kobanê and continued all the way to Baghouz, the joint struggle was conducted at the highest level. The international coalition forces also played a role in our victories. After the battle of Baghouz, many were relieved. But the thought that the danger was no longer the same as before caused weakness to emerge. Some forces want to fulfil their duties at this point, but stronger joint action needs to be taken together with the international coalition. Thousands of detainees from 60 countries and their relatives are a serious danger, especially if their situation is not resolved. Some joint intelligence and operational work is being done. However, most of the burden is back on us. Many talks are taking place about returning the detained ISIS members to their countries, but this is not enough.

It has been reported that the SDF also played a role in the US-led operations against ISIS leaders in Idlib. How is the SDF contributing to operations against ISIS outside their own areas?

We are working with the international coalition to identify the network that provides ammunition and financial support to ISIS mercenaries in the region. There are also joint efforts to crack down on senior ISIS leaders and their supporters. We are interrogating the arrested mercenaries and their families based on the information we have received. We are engaged in an intensive struggle to completely dismantle ISIS and are also involved in joint work to this end.

What is the biggest obstacle in the fight against ISIS? There is always talk about the Turkish state's cooperation with ISIS. What documents and information do you have on this so far?

The most visible example of this is the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on the border with Turkey and in the territory controlled by Turkey. The Turkish state's cooperation with ISIS is well known. The mercenaries we arrested admitted in their interrogations that they were sent to the region by Turkish intelligence after being trained in Turkey. The fact that their escape routes also lead via Turkey further demonstrates this support. They receive their instructions from the Turkish state. It is obvious that ISIS mercenaries also appear organised under different names in the Turkish-occupied territories.

In the occupied territories, they commit all kinds of attacks against society, such as kidnapping, imprisonment and murder. These attacks are especially directed against women and are not in the least different from the idea and practice of ISIS. One of the main tasks of the SDF, who are fighting for the whole of Syria and its peoples, is the liberation of these occupied territories. We continue to work in many areas, including the military, to liberate the occupied territories and allow people to return to their land.

Would you like to add something to conclude?

Four years have passed since the victory of Baghouz. Great progress has been made and our struggle continues every day. As long as the idea of ISIS exists and there are attempts to create reasons for its revival, we will continue our struggle against the desire of other powers that want to do the same thing to our people in northern and eastern Syria as ISIS. We will continue to fight to prevent the emergence of a new danger to the whole world. As SDF, we will keep our promise to our people and the families of the martyrs.