Koalitionen som indtog Raqqa indgik en aftale med IS, som lod dem forlade byen sammen med deres familier og våben – uden kamp. Det sparede mange liv, men udgør en trussel i fremtiden.
Chaifførerne blev stillet en en seks timers tur med et par hundrede mennesker i udsigt. I virkeligheden viste det sig at tage tre dage og omfatte 4.000 mennesker.
Syrian Defence Forces sagde officielt, at det kun var lykkedes kun nogle få IS-krigere at flygte. Det var en stor, fed løgn. En chauffør fortæller:
We took out around 4,000 people including women and children – our vehicle and their vehicles combined. When we entered Raqqa, we thought there were 200 people to collect. In my vehicle alone, I took 112 people.
De chauffører BBC møder er vrede. De blev lovet guld og grønne skove, men da det kom til stykket, blev de ikke betalt. Og lastbilerne brød sammen under vægten af tunge våben.
Another driver says the convoy was six to seven kilometres long. It included almost 50 trucks, 13 buses and more than 100 of the Islamic State group’s own vehicles. IS fighters, their faces covered, sat defiantly on top of some of the vehicles.
Footage secretly filmed and passed to us shows lorries towing trailers crammed with armed men. Despite an agreement to take only personal weapons, IS fighters took everything they could carry. Ten trucks were loaded with weapons and ammunition.
This wasn’t so much an evacuation – it was the exodus of so-called Islamic State.
The SDF didn’t want the retreat from Raqqa to look like an escape to victory. No flags or banners would be allowed to be flown from the convoy as it left the city, the deal stipulated.
Forsvarsminister John Mattis sagde i maj, at krigen mod IS var en udslettelseskrig. Ingen ville undslippe. Men virkeligheden blev en anden.
En chauffør fortæller
«There was a huge number of foreigners. France, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi, China, Tunisia, Egypt…”
En vestlig officer var til stede ved forhandlinger, alt for lidt, og han siger, at de ikke kunne blande sig i de aftaler, der blev indgået. Det var trods alt syrerne, som døde.
In light of the BBC investigation, the coalition now admits the part it played in the deal. Some 250 IS fighters were allowed to leave Raqqa, with 3,500 of their family members.
“We didn’t want anyone to leave,” says Col Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the Western coalition against IS.
“But this goes to the heart of our strategy, ‘by, with and through’ local leaders on the ground. It comes down to Syrians – they are the ones fighting and dying, they get to make the decisions regarding operations,” he says.
While a Western officer was present for the negotiations, they didn’t take an “active part” in the discussions. Col Dillon maintains, though, that only four foreign fighters left and they are now in SDF custody.
Der er et ganske stort spring mellem fire og 250.
IS-krigerne optrådte ikke, som om de var besejrede. Tværtimod. De mishandlede de chauffører, som reddede dem.
Underneath, there are burns on his skin. “Look what they did here,” he says.
According to Abu Fawzi, there were three or four foreigners with each driver. They would beat him and call him names, such as “infidel”, or “pig”.
They might have been helping the fighters escape, but the Arab drivers were abused the entire route, they say. And threatened.
“They said, ‘Let us know when you rebuild Raqqa – we will come back,’” says Abu Fawzi. “They were defiant and didn’t care. They accused us of kicking them out of Raqqa.”
A female foreign fighter threatened him with her AK-47.
Droner fulgte kolonnen hele vejen.
» the last of the convoy were about to cross, a US jet flew very low and deployed flares to light up the area. IS fighters shat their pants.”
Amerikanerne kunne have udslettet kolonnen, men undlod at gøre det.
Smuglerne som tager folk over grænsen til Tyrkiet, oplever en booming bussiness:
The men who cut fences, climb walls and run through the tunnels out of Syria are reporting a big increase in people fleeing. The collapse of the caliphate is good for business.
“In the past couple of weeks, we’ve had lots of families leaving Raqqa and wanting to leave for Turkey. This week alone, I personally oversaw the smuggling of 20 families,” says Imad, a smuggler on the Turkish-Syrian border.
“Most were foreign but there were Syrians as well.”
He now charges $600 (£460) per person and a minimum of $1,500 for a family.
In this business, clients don’t take kindly to inquiries. But Imad says he’s had “French, Europeans, Chechens, Uzbek”.
“Some were talking in French, others in English, others in some foreign language,” he says.
Walid, another smuggler on a different stretch of the Turkish border, tells the same story.
“We had an influx of families over the past few weeks,” he says. “There were some large families crossing. Our job is to smuggle them through. We’ve had a lot of foreign families using our services.”
Vi hører, at IS er helt på hælene, at deres ledere flygter og at alt er tabt. Men virkeligheden er en ganske anden:
However, Walid says it’s a different situation for senior IS figures.
“Those highly placed foreigners have their own networks of smugglers. It’s usually the same people who organised their access to Syria. They co-ordinate with one another.”
En fransk IS-kriger, Abu Basir al-Faransy, flygtede til Idlib. Han fortæller, at han var del af en gruppe, som udelukkende bestod af franskmænd. De fik en specialopgave: Tag hjem og hævn det, der er sket her.
He was part of an almost exclusively French group within IS, and before he left some of his fellow fighters were given a new mission.
BBC har lavet lidt af et scoop med denne reportage. Officielt hedder det sig, at det kun var et fåtal, som undslap:
The numbers leaving were much higher than local tribal elders admitted. At first the coalition refused to admit the extent of the deal.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, somewhat improbably, continue to maintain that no deal was done.
Motivet for at lade IS-krigerne undslippe, drejede sig om forholdet mellem de kurdiske krigere og deres forhold til de lokale arabere.
Da amerikanerne intensiverede bombningen af Raqqa, gik selv IS-krigerne i panik. En bombe ramte et hus, hvor der boede 35 familier. De blev pulveriseret. Der havde været gjort flere forhandlingsfremstød. Nu ville IS forhandle.
Det var altså kurdere, som satte forholdet til de lokale indbyggere højere end det at udslette IS.
Der er intet, der tyder på, at IS har nedlagt ned våbnene. Mange af dem kan være kommet til Vesten.