Pentagon confirms American ISIS fighter captured in Syria

Pentagon confirms American ISIS fighter captured in Syria
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The U.S. military has detained an American who was captured in Syria while fighting for ISIS, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed Thursday.

“Syrian Democratic Forces turned over to U.S. forces an American citizen who surrendered to SDF on or around Sept. 12,” Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway said in a statement. “The U.S. citizen is being legally detained by Department of Defense personnel as a known enemy combatant.”

The Pentagon’s confirmation comes after The Daily Beast first reported the capture earlier Thursday.

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The SDF is a mostly Kurdish force that has been fighting to rout the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from its former de facto capital of Raqqa, as well as in the Middle Euphrates River Valley north of Deir el-Zour, where ISIS leadership is believed to have fled before the Raqqa battle.

Asked earlier Thursday about the reports of an American captured on the battlefield, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS said it is committed to combatting the group no matter what nationalities its members hold.

“Regardless of the nationality, ISIS will be defeated, and our goal is to defeat them, regardless of where you come from,” Col. Ryan Dillon said at a briefing. 

Heather Nauert, spokeswoman for the State Department, told reporters earlier Thursday that anyone who goes to fight for ISIS “can’t be very bright.”

“It serves as a good reminder that in a nation of 330-some million people, some people will be dumb enough to go to Iraq and Syria to try to fight for ISIS,” Nauert said at a briefing. “We encourage people not to do that. As the U.S. government, we say, ‘Don't go do that.’ I mean, you can't be very bright, if you're going to go over there and do that.”

The American fighter, whose identity was not released, is not the first American ISIS fighter captured on the battlefield.

Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 27, was captured by Kurdish forces in northern Iraq in March 2016. He was brought to the U.S. for a trial and convicted in June of providing material support to ISIS.

But the fighter captured this week is the first American captured since President Trump took office, presenting a test of how Trump will handle U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism abroad.

On the campaign trail, Trump indicated he was open to detaining U.S. citizens at Guantánamo Bay and trying them at the military commissions there. It is currently illegal to try U.S. citizens at military commissions.

The Justice Department in July charged a terrorism suspect, who is not a U.S. citizen, in a Philadelphia federal court after Spanish officials turned the suspect over to U.S. custody.