Feb 13th, 2022, 09:35 PM

US-Backed Forces Retake Prison Besieged by ISIS

By Liam Williams
Syrian SDF militia members
Photo credit: Flickr/Kurdishstruggle
ISIS attack in Syria fails to reinvigorate the terror group, but reminds world that they are not yet defeated.

Some video content in this article contains graphic footage that may not be suitable for all readers, including gunshots, explosions, blood, injuries, and mild nudity. Reader discretion is advised.

In late January, terror group ISIS attempted a jailbreak of imprisoned comrades at a Syrian prison, leaving nearly 500 dead in the Islamic State's deadliest operation since 2019. The prison and most of the inmates that had escaped it were later recaptured by both American and Syrian forces.

Nearly two weeks later, on Feb. 3, US President Joe Biden announced the killing of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. Though planned months ahead, the mission concluded January's dramatic saga involving the once fading group. 

The prison raid began on Jan. 20, with reports of explosions and gunfire at the Ghwayran prison in the Syrian city of al-Hasakah. Interned inside were thousands of suspected ISIS fighters, many of whom captured after the decisive Battle of Baghuz Fawqani in 2019. As a result of the 2019 battle, the groups last territorial holdings were captured forcing fighters to either hide or surrender to the local Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a western-backed group formed during the nation's civil war.

Simultaneous to the events outside, prisoners inside began an uprising against the guards. Dozens were killed and it became immediately clear this was a coordinated operation to allow the escape of imprisoned Islamic State (IS) fighters. SDF and IS fighters engaged each other with small arms throughout the night, leading to several more casualties. Seeing the severity and precariousness of the situation, United States Ground and Air forces joined the fight delivering several airstrikes on IS-held positions, which now spread all throughout the city. 

On Jan. 23 the United Nations issued a statement on the evolving situation, "Civilian casualties have been reported and about 45,000 people have been displaced from their homes. Most of the displaced people have sought safety with family and friends in nearby areas. About 500 people are being hosted at two temporary shelters." While it can be difficult to visualize from text, spectators captured videos of the terrifying battle showing scenes reminiscent of the darkest days of the civil war. 

With assistance from allies the SDF was able to secure the surrounding area and recapture many IS prisoners, some of whom were caught on video surrendering. The combined-arms armored, infantry, and aerial operations proved effective in containing the attack. State Department spokesman Ned Price praised the military efforts: "Due to the effective response of the SDF, in partnership with U.S. and Coalition forces, senior ISIS leaders were captured or killed during the attempt to free detained ISIS members from detention”. The SDF declared victory on Jan. 30, though it's possible a small number of prisoners are still on the run. 

The attack served as a warning to governments around the world, that despite the decline in terror attacks abroad, the group remains a threat to the region and cleverly coordinated raids like the one on Jan. 20 can easily spiral out of control. With the U.S. killing of the group's leader and assistance in suppressing the jailbreak, Syrians can remain confident of the coalition's resolve when it comes to preventing the resurgence of ISIS.