Video footage showed what appeared to be chaotic scenes inside Al-Hol camp, which houses roughly 70,000 displaced people from ISIS-controlled areas, including relatives of ISIS members.
Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander Mervan Qamishlo said there was “civil disobedience” in the camp on Friday, when people tried to raze tents and attack security personnel.
A drawdown of US military presence in the area has allowed ISIS ideology to spread “uncontested” in the camp, according to a recent Pentagon report, which makes the attempted break all the more concerning.
The unrest comes on the heels of warnings from the SDF — a key US partner in the fight against ISIS — that Turkey’s military offensive on the northeastern Syria border would hinder its ability to police the terror group, both on the ground and in prisons.
Five ISIS militants escaped from Navkur prison on Friday after Turkish mortars landed nearby, according to the SDF, which is responsible for all ISIS prisons in northern Syria.
“There is a real threat for the situation to get out of control,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said in a statement, accusing Turkey of attempting to release ISIS prisoners as part of its strategy.
Shortly after Turkey launched its offensive to clear Kurdish forces away from its Syrian border on Wednesday, the SDF said it would suspend its counter-ISIS operations with the US to focus on its response.
US advisers have informed the SDF that it will not defend them from Turkey, though the group continues to guard American military bases.
The SDF has called on the US government to stop Turkey’s operation, calling on it to impose sanctions “to force it to stop the attack.”
The White House threatened Turkey with sanctions on Friday but has not activated them. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters that Trump was “concerned” about the Turkish military offensive and wants to make clear that “it is imperative that Turkey not allow a single ISIS fighter to escape.”
Despite concerns about containing the ISIS threat, the US has said it will not intervene in the fight between Turkey and the Kurds.
“We are not abandoning our Kurdish partner forces and US troops remain with them in other parts of Syria,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday in remarks to reporters at the Pentagon.
“We remain in close coordination with the Syrian Democratic Forces who helped us destroy the physical caliphate of ISIS, but I will not place American service members in the middle of a longstanding conflict between the Turks and the Kurds, this is not why we are in Syria,” Esper said.
But fears are growing among US officials that thousands of ISIS fighters may escape from prisons in Syria as the Kurdish personnel guarding them focus their attention on the fight with Turkey.