Feb 04 2019

U.S. calls on foreign countries to repatriate, prosecute ISIS detainees held by SDF

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have captured hundreds of foreign jihadists in the battle against the Islamic State (ISIS) in northern Syria, and it is time for their home nations to repatriate and prosecute these fighters, U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino said in a written statement on Monday.

“Facing the extraordinary challenge of fighting a brutal enemy in a disciplined manner, the SDF has demonstrated a clear commitment to detain these individuals securely and humanely,” the statement read.

“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,” it said.

As a mainstay of the U.S.-backed Global Coalition against the Islamic State, the SDF has taken control of large areas of northern and eastern Syria, taking hundreds of jihadist prisoners from dozens of countries in the process.

On Feb. 1, U.S. Pentagon spokesperson Commander Sean Robertson announced that the SDF had detained over “800 foreign terrorist fighters” from “more than 40 countries.”

U.S. officials have pushed for foreign countries to repatriate citizens detained by the SDF, whose detention facilities have been strained by the large number of detainees.

“Many countries are reluctant to do so because of the difficulty of prosecuting suspected ISIS members based on evidence collected on the battlefield,” CNN said last week.

Palladino’s Feb. 4 statement praised the “courage and resolve” shown by the SDF in the fight against ISIS. “Through their efforts, ISIS is now weakened and on the run, and the world is a safer place,” it said.

The statement added that, though weakened, “ISIS remains a significant terrorist threat and collective action is imperative to address this shared international security challenge.”

The SDF's hold over northern Syrian territories has been under pressure since Dec. 19, when U.S. President Donald Trump announced the “immediate withdrawal” of the U.S. forces posted alongside SDF troops in northern Syria.

Trump said he intended to hand the reins in the fight against ISIS to Turkey, which views the SDF as a terrorist organisation and has threatened to launch a military operation to remove SDF-backed administrations from territories near the Turkish border.

Ankara’s view of the SDF is based on the group’s affiliation with Syrian Kurdish militias that are linked to outlawed armed groups in Turkey.

Since Trump’s announcement in December, plans for the withdrawal have been rowed back, and lawmakers in the United States have called for any withdrawal to be conditional on ensuring the country’s SDF allies are protected after U.S. forces leave.