WASHINGTON: The US urged other countries Monday to bring home hundreds of Daesh fighters captured in Syria, a delicate issue for allies such as France and Britain as President Donald Trump withdraws troops.
Washington drew a line on the militants two days before foreign ministers from Europe and the Middle East gather in the US capital for talks on how to fight Daesh, once the US military presence ends.
US allies have been grappling for weeks with what to do with foreign fighters detained in the war-ravaged country by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who have warned that they may not be able to guard their jails once US troops leave.
“The United States calls upon other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens detained by the SDF and commends the continued efforts of the SDF to return these foreign terrorist fighters to their countries of origin,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement.
“Despite the liberation of Daesh-held territory in Iraq and Syria, Daesh remains a significant terrorist threat and collective action is imperative to address this shared international security challenge,” Palladino said.
Another US official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that northeastern Syria had become a “very fluid space.”
“As events unfold, there are any number of scenarios under which positive control of some of the individuals currently in custody could change,” the official said.
He voiced concern that militants could then leave Syria for “other, more permissive places around the world from which they could seek to carry forward the fight.”
Trump stunned Western allies on Dec. 19 by announcing that the US would pull its 2,000 troops out of Syria, declaring that Daesh had been defeated.
One of the countries most concerned is France, which has been hit by a series of Daesh-inspired attacks including the grisly November 2015 siege of the Bataclan nightclub in Paris.
France — which along with Britain maintains a small deployment of special forces in Syria — last week opened the door to bringing back its citizens, after earlier insisting that the militants should be prosecuted locally and not step foot back in France.
The French Foreign Ministry said its goal was to “avoid the escape and scattering of these potentially dangerous individuals” and acknowledged that the situation on the ground was changing with the US withdrawal.
A French security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, earlier told AFP 130 people could be repatriated. A second French official said the group included 70 to 80 children held with their mothers.
Britain has, meanwhile, been grappling with what to do with the two surviving members of a quartet — nicknamed “The Beatles” for their accents — who were notorious for videotaped beheadings.
Britain has shown no interest in bringing home the Kurdish-jailed pair, Alexanda Amon Kotey and El Shafee El-Sheikh, amid reports they were stripped of their nationality.
A report last year said the US was willing to take them in its military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — an option that would be deeply controversial in Britain, partly due to the US practice of the death penalty.