President Donald Trump and French president Emmanuel Macron sparred today over the fate of European members of ISIS who continue to languish in prison camps in Syria—and are in danger of escaping in the middle of a war between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds.
“We have a tremendous amount of captured fighters, ISIS fighters, over in Syria,” Trump said at a joint press conference. “Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I can give them to you. You can take everyone you want.”
“Let’s be serious,” Macron shot back. “It is true you have current fighters coming from Europe. But it's a minority of the overall problem we have in the region. And I think number one priority because it’s not yet finished, is to get rid of ISIS.”
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are holding an unknown number of foreign ISIS fighters. Tens of thousands of foreigners are sitting in one prison—the infamous Al-Hawl Camp—alone. European countries have been slow to take back their citizens. But as the war between Turkey and the SDF threatens to engulf the SDF’s prisons, the countdown is on to stop a wave of ISIS escapees with European passports.
The Trump administration says it has taken back twenty-three Americans from Syria and Iraq, but the SDF says it has no agreement with Europe to deal with suspected ISIS members.
Turkey attacked the SDF with a Trump administration green light on October 8, unleashing chaos in Northeast Syria. In its statement approving the Turkish operation, the White House complained that European countries were refusing to take back ISIS members.
Around two hundred ISIS men and eight hundred ISIS women and children escaped in the first few weeks of the military campaign, according to a recent joint report to Congress by the Pentagon, State Department, and U.S. Agency for International Development.
The Rojava Information Center, a collective of journalists based in northeast Syria, has documented several more recent violent incidents and escapes from Al-Hawl Camp, including a mass breakout by six ISIS women on November 19 and a murder on November 31.