A spokesperson for the U.S.-led Coalition told The Defense Post that a Coalition leader attended a Wednesday meeting regarding an orderly Islamic State withdrawal from Raqqa, but did not participate in the discussion.
The meeting reportedly occurred in Ayn Issa, the interim base for Raqqa Civil Council.
“The Coalition is aware of the meeting between the Raqqah Civil Council and local Syrian Arab tribal elders,” the spokesperson said in a Thursday, October 12 email to The Defense Post. “A Coalition leader attended but did not actively participate in discussions.”
US officers still refusing to be part of these negotiations and wouldn't give any pledge about not bombing convoys.#R24
— Raqqa24 (@24Raqqa) October 11, 2017
In a series of tweets, the Raqqa24 activist group which is based in the city said that Coalition officials refused to take part in the meeting and would not give assurances that they would not strike ISIS fighters leaving Raqqa under a local deal.
Raqqa24 said local mediators “told US officers that this agreement is very important for stability in Raqqa and for the local community.”
“The Coalition opposes any arrangement that allows ISIS terrorists to depart Raqqah,” the spokesperson told The Defense Post.
A similar deal was reached between the SDF and ISIS at the Tabqa dam in May. Coalition aircraft reportedly bombed and strafed a convoy of ISIS vehicles that left the area after the deal was secured.
The Defense Post asked about the composition of the ISIS militants remaining in Raqqa, asking if the proportion of foreign fighters might be higher than is usual. “We will not speculate on the level of extremist views harbored by any specific group of ISIS terrorists,” the spokesperson said.
In recent weeks and months, hundreds of ISIS-linked detainees have been released by the SDF after negotiations, with assurances given by tribal elders. Many detainees have professed that they did not fight for ISIS, and others may have been coerced into fighting.
On Wednesday, spokesperson Colonel Ryan Dillon told the Associated Press that the Coalition was focused on the safe evacuation of civilians from Raqqa.
— Military Times (@MilitaryTimes) October 11, 2017
“We are seeing some good progress of civilians that are being able to safely exit Raqqa. The trend has turned into … a broader effort by the Raqqa Civil Council to get the remaining civilians out of there,” Dillon said, adding that at least 700 civilians were evacuated since Monday.
Dillon said that Coalition discussions about militants in Raqqa focused on “unconditional surrender.” He said that a negotiated withdrawal “is absolutely something that we as a Coalition would not be a part of or agree with,” adding that around 400 militants remain in the city.
The Coalition spokesperson reiterated to The Defense Post on Thursday that: “The Coalition is not involved in negotiations with ISIS forces, and remains committed to the defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.”