Even without a single confirmed case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in detention facilities holding alleged Islamic State affiliates in northeastern Syria, the pandemic is complicating a range of humanitarian and security challenges within the prisons and camps. The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) and its military arm, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—a Kurdish-led alliance of militias and partner to the U.S.-led Coalition to Defeat the Islamic State—control much of this part of the country. The SDF is largely responsible for maintaining and securing Islamic State detainees in a range of detention sites, including prisons and camps. Several factors make this task daunting, particularly as the pandemic increases uncertainty while constraining resources, and SDF officials continue to call on the international community for more support.
While some humanitarian groups and members of the coalition against the Islamic State have responded to these calls, providing monetary support and other resources to the SDF, insights from SDF officials, counterterrorism analysts, and a variety of sources suggest that circumstances in some facilities remain precarious. The SDF takes preventative measures against COVID-19 in the prisons and camps, but it lacks adequate resources and infrastructure. In an interview with the author in June 2020, General Mazloum Abdi, the top commander of the SDF, explained, “We are depending on international support to be able to manage and control all these facilities. So far, the assistance and the support that is provided from the coalition and the international community is not enough.