- President Donald Trump on Wednesday brushed off concerns that ISIS fighters imprisoned by US-backed Kurdish forces will pose a future threat to the US if they escaped.
- “Well, they’re going to be escaping to Europe,” Trump said to reporters during a press conference, referring to foreign ISIS fighters. “That’s where they want to go, they want to go back to their homes.”
- Trump’s comments come amid concerns that ISIS prisoners currently in the custody of the Kurdish militia in Syria would escape amidst the chaos of a looming fight with Turkey.
- Asked about whether the ISIS prisoners would escape, he said he hoped the Kurds or Turkey “will do the job.”
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President Donald Trump on Wednesday brushed off concerns that ISIS fighters imprisoned by US-backed Kurdish forces will pose a future threat to the US if they escaped, saying they would instead choose to go to countries in Europe.
“Well, they’re going to be escaping to Europe,” Trump told reporters during a press conference, referring to foreign ISIS fighters. “That’s where they want to go, they want to go back to their homes,” Trump said, referring to the estimated 2,000 members of ISIS believed to come from European nations.
Trump’s comments come amid concerns that the chaos of a looming fight with Turkey would make it easier for ISIS prisoners currently in custody of the Kurdish militia in Syria to escape. Ankara claims the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, and the Kurdish-majority Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are a threat, and are linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Turkey-based group that the US and other countries designates a terrorist organization.
Thousands of ISIS prisoners and their families, including an estimated 2,000 foreigners, are being detained by the SDF. Those forces are widely expected to abandon their posts to hold off the Turkish assault.
“All their families are located in the border area,” SDF commander Gen. Mazloum Kobani said to NBC News. “So they are forced to defend their families.”
Many of the countries the foreign ISIS fighters originated from have been reluctant to repatriate them, despite Trump’s insistence that they be taken back en masse.
“They didn’t come from our country and we did them a big favor,” Trump said at the press conference. “We said to France, we said to Germany, we said to various countries in Europe, ‘we’d like you to take your people.'”
“I said, ‘we don’t want them either,'” Trump said. “Nobody wants them. They’re bad. But somebody has to watch over them.”
Trump alleged countries in Europe had a tendency of “taking advantage of the United States,” and that the US was through having to carry their share of the financial burden. Asked about whether the ISIS prisoners would escape, he said he hoped the Kurds or Turkey “will do the job.”
A bipartisan group of lawmakers expressed concern over the possibility of freed ISIS prisoners in a statement following Trump’s decision to withdraw a small contingent of US troops on the Syrian border. That decision on Sunday was widely condemned by lawmakers, who claim the US was abandoning Kurdish allies who spearheaded the fight against the Islamic State in Syria.
“The bottom line is that these Kurdish soldiers are the first line of defense in maintaining the gains we have made against ISIS; if Turkey attacks these Kurdish soldiers, there is a grave risk that the ISIS fighters they guard will escape and return to the battlefield,” Reps. Jason Crow of Colorado, Elise Stefanik of New York, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, Andy Kim of New Jersey, and Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania said in the statement.