Mattis: No final agreement on what to do with captured foreign ISIS fighters

Mattis: No final agreement on what to do with captured foreign ISIS fighters
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Members of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) do not agree on what to do with captured foreign fighters, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisLawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Trump called top military brass 'a bunch of dopes and babies' in 2017: book MORE said Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters after a closed-door coalition meeting in Rome, Mattis said the issue was "not resolved in a final way," but that individual countries must take responsibility for ISIS fighters that hail from their nation.

“The important thing is that the countries of origin keep responsibility for them,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him from Rome to Brussels. “How they carry out that responsibility, there’s a dozen different diplomatic, legal or whatever ways, I suppose. But the bottom line is, we don’t want them going back on the street.”

“Doing nothing is not an option,” he added later.


The debate over what to do with foreign ISIS fighters captured on the battlefield heated up after the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured two men that were part of an ISIS cell known as “The Beatles” because of their English accents.

The men, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Amon Kotey, grew up in London and were part of an ISIS cell that captured, tortured and beheaded more than two dozen hostages. Their victims included James Foley and Steven Sotloff, both American journalists, and Peter Kassig, an American aid worker.

Mattis said that, in total, hundreds of foreign ISIS fighters are being captured, as they haven’t proven “quite so willing to die [for their cause] when confronted with the coalition forces and the SDF.”

“We don’t want them on the street in Ankara. We don’t want them on the street in Tunis, Paris or Brussels. We don’t need them in Kuala Lumpur or New Delhi. We don’t need them in Kabul or Riyadh,” he said. “My point is it’s an international problem. It needs to be addressed, and we’re all engaged on doing that.”

While there was no final agreement, Mattis said “a number of things are being worked,” including some repatriations.

Asked whether the foreign fighters could be sent to the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, Mattis declined to comment.

“I’m not willing to say anything on that right now,” Mattis said. “I think the best thing to do is to define the problem and then we’ll get to solutions. We need to know how many of these guys are in what status, what countries are they're from, and so I don’t want to jump to offering solutions before I’ve defined the problem.”

Asked specifically about Kotey and Elsheikh and Britain’s assertion that their citizenship has been revoked, Mattis said he needs to talk more with the British before he can answer.

“My view is that the country of origin, that they were citizens of bears some sense of responsibility,” he continued. “How they deal with that responsibility, I’m not a lawyer. I’m not an international law person, but I know one thing: they shouldn’t be allowed back on the street.”