In a Tweet on Saturday US President Donald Trump told European countries to “take back” over 800 ISIS fighters who have been detained in Syria during the course of the war on ISIS.
“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial. The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them….The U.S. does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go. We do so much, and spend so much – Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!”
Trump’s statement comes as the Syrian Democratic Forces clear ISIS from one of its last strongholds east of the Euphrates near Baghuz. The US-led Coalition and its SDF partners have said that ISIS is down to just a few hundred square meters of ground and it is thought they will be defeated soon. Yet tens of thousands have fled the last ISIS-held areas east of the Euphrates, including many ISIS members and their families.
It was thought that the SDF had around 3,200 detainees, including people from 41 countries. But there have been many hundreds of new foreign ISIS members fleeing in the last week. At the Munich Security Conference US officials and Senator Lindsey Graham encouraged European to do more in Syria.
Trump’s tweet implies that “we” captured the ISIS fighters in Syria. In reality the SDF captured them and the US has not been willing to work to detain them, although US officials have interviewed some. Trump says “we will be forced to release them,” which also is an unclear statement since the US has not said that it holds them. The SDF holds the detainees, and the US doesn’t treat the SDF as a state actor, it barely treats it as an “entity”, not inviting it to Coalition meetings for instance.
Trump announced the Syria withdrawal on December 19, and the US is expected to withdraw by April. Yet most countries have refused to take back their ISIS members. Some have said they have a “right” to come back but won’t provide consular services to get them back or send planes to repatriate them.
For instance MI6 has said that British suspected ISIS members have a right to come back, but hasn’t provided an explanation of how that might happen.