The U.S. military has moved several dozen Islamic State (ISIS) detainees held in Kurdish-controlled wartime prisons in northern Syria after Turkey launched a military offensive against Kurdish-held territories, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
The decision came after U.S. President Donald Trump paved the way for a Turkish assault against the predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) by pulling back American troops in northeast Syria.
Turkey sees the SDF’s affiliate the People’s Protection Units (YPG) as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), while the YPG forms the backbone of U.S-led coalition forces fighting against ISIS in Syria.
Trump initially said some 11,000 captured ISIS fighters who had been detained in northern Syria would be Turkey’s responsibility after the start of the military operation. But he said on Wednesday that the United States was taking “a certain number of ISIS fighters that are particularly bad” in order to make sure that they did not escape.
The U.S. military would take some of the men to a U.S. base in Iraq where it holds a handful of ISIS detainees with American citizenship, the New York Times said.
Two British jihadists, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, are among those said to have been transferred from Kurdish detention to U.S. custody. Britain stripped the two men of their citizenship after they were captured in January and refused to repatriate them for trial. The U.S. Justice Department plans to bring them to trial in Virginia, the New York Times said.
The U.S. military had been making contingency plans to transfer about five dozen highest-priority ISIS prisoners since Trump announced plans to withdraw American troops in Syria last year in December. But a U.S. official told the New York Times that it was not clear how many on the list scattered among numerous makeshift prisons in northern Syria could be transferred amid the chaos of the Turkish military operation.