Speed Reads

the art of the deal

Hundreds of ISIS fighters were smuggled out of Raqqa. And the American-backed coalition let them get away.

Local officials in Raqqa apparently negotiated and agreed to the escape of thousands of ISIS fighters in exchange for an end to fighting in the former ISIS capital, the BBC reported Monday. The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of American-backed Kurdish and Syrian fighters, apparently hired local truck drivers to smuggle ISIS fighters out of Raqqa and told the drivers that they would be transporting families that had been displaced by fighting in Syria.

"We didn't want anyone to leave," Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the Western coalition against ISIS, told the BBC. "It comes down to Syrians — they are the ones fighting and dying, they get to make the decisions regarding operations." One of the truck drivers tasked with transporting the expelled ISIS fighters said the militants "booby-trapped our trucks. If something were to go wrong in the deal, they would bomb the entire convoy. Even their children and women had suicide belts on."

During the drive out of Raqqa, some drivers were beaten and threatened by the jihadists, who reportedly told them, "Let us know when you rebuild Raqqa — we will come back." Drivers who spoke to the BBC said that they have not yet been paid by the SDF.

Former ISIS intelligence chief Abu Musab Huthaifa told the BBC that thousands of ISIS fighters escaped Raqqa and had spread beyond Syria. A French ISIS fighter now in Idlib, a Syria city near the Turkish border, told the BBC, "There are some French brothers from our group who left for France to carry out attacks in what would be called a 'day of reckoning.'"

Read the full account of ISIS's escape from Raqqa at the BBC.