A new CNN report presents the full numbers of those detained by SDF as the ISIS “caliphate” collapsed over the last year. This now includes 9,000 ISIS fighters (Syrian and Iraq), 60,000 of their families and “affiliates” and up to 2,000 foreign fighters.
“Currently, we can confirm more than 1,000 foreign terrorist fighters from more than 50 countries in SDF custody. We anticipate that number will rise as we work with the SDF to verify the national identities of ISIS fighters in SDF custody,” Pentagon spokesman Sean Robertson told CNN.
It used to be that there were thought to be 3,200 ISIS members held by the SDF before Hajin and the Baghouz offensive that began in September 2018. The 3,200 allegedly included around 900 foreign fighters from 41 countries. It was never entirely clear if that number was accurate or if they were mostly foreign. Trump asked European powers to take back up to 800 ISIS members in February.
Now the growing numbers are revealed. The SDF, with support from the Coalition, is using biometrics to determine who is who. This is especially the case with the foreigners. It can help investigators to look into these fighters and trace them to their home countries. Most European countries refuse to take them back even though European ISIS members played some of the most cruel and genocidal role in ISIS.
Many of those who left Baghouz were fingerprinted and screened by the SDF with some assistance or observation from the Coalition. The Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis documented this in January and February. We now know that in Al Hol camp, CNN reports, that there are 73,041 people. 65 percent are under eighteen years old. 43% are Syrians and 42% are Iraqis. The rest are from other countries.
The huge number of foreigners reveals how ISIS was a kind of colonial operation, in which up to 50,000 people journeyed from around the world to genocide, ethnic-cleanse and enslave locals. More than 5,000 citizens of EU states joined. In defeat many of these foreign genocide tourists now remain.
The US confirmed 1,000 “foreign terrorist fighters,” so far. These are now from 50 countries, more than the 41 countries last year and 43 countries in February. Up to 11,000 of the 74,000 in Al Hol are foreign non-Iraq/non-Syrian. EU countries have mostly refused to take back their citizens.
I write at The Jerusalem Post “The thousand male foreign fighters from fifty countries therefore represent only the hard-core tip of the iceberg of the ISIS members. They pose a major threat, but the international community has not set on a course of what to do with them. The US now wants the SDF to continue to house these detainees. But for a poor area of Syria it is difficult to house not only the dangerous men, but also care for the large number of families who are the equivalent of a city in Syria now. There are so many children that special care is needed for those children as well. And this doesn’t begin to address de-radicalization. By all reports and appearances the Al Hol camp has become a well contained enclosure for ISIS ideology to percolate without any members of the Coalition devoting resources to the kinds of de-radicalization programs that Gulf states and other regional countries have pioneered.”
Iraq may take back its citizens. That could be up to 31,000 people. Iraq has already agreed to taken back thousands. Some have faced trial and may face execution.
In Syria no courts have been established and the international community does not seem ready to create a tribunal. The US wants to work on “stabilization” even as it seeks to withdraw troops. This is a major challenge. The SDF has handed some ISIS members back to local tribes according to reports, but most are in limbo. Without investment in de-radicalization and taking back the hard core to their home countries, or having them face justice, it is unclear what will happen. Al Hol could even be a breeding ground for new ISIS threats because so many supporters are now packed together.
Yazidi activists also want justice. They wonder what happened to the 3,000 missing Yazidis. The Coalition has not made justice a priority.