Defense Secretary James Mattis said “there is not a one way forward for all detainees right now” as countries in the anti-ISIS coalition weigh what to do with foreign fighters captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces in the liberation of Raqqa and other battles.
En route to a NATO defense ministerial in Brussels on Tuesday, Mattis told reporters, “You remember a lot of them saying they were willing to die for their cause. Well, they haven’t proven quite so willing to die when confronted with the coalition forces and the SDF.”
“And so, we’re gathering up hundreds now of detainees. The important thing is that the countries of origin keep responsibility for them. How they carry out that responsibility — there’s a dozen different diplomatic legal or whatever ways, I suppose,” he said. “But the bottom line is we don’t want them going back on the street. 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 in Riyadh.”
“My point is, it’s an international problem — it needs to be addressed and we’re all engaged on doing that… Some nations have specific interests where they want to bring people in. Some nations do not have any detainees there, but they are equally worried.”
Mattis noted that “these people come home, and they have the veneer of civilization off them and they look at the world very differently after going through the kind of mayhem they’ve created where they’re at.”
He added that without a resolution yet there are “a number of things going on already to have some of them being repatriated to certain locations.”
Asked what will happen to captured American ISIS fighters, the Defense secretary replied, “We want to make sure that certain foreign fighters are taken off the battlefield and they don’t show up somewhere else — and I just want to hold with that right now.”
Mattis wouldn’t comment on whether some may go to Guantanamo Bay. “I think the best thing to is define the problem and then we’ll get the solution. We need to know how many of these guys or in what status, what countries are they from. And so, I don’t want to jump to offering a solution before I’ve defined the problem,” he said.
Mattis also stressed that “ISIS is not done.”
‘We’ve kept saying that the fight is not over. I’ve said that now for two months, and you just have to recognize, the fighting goes on. That’s why we want to stay focused on it. And it was a very strong — that was the strong sense from the nations in Europe from out in the Pacific, all the ones that are fighting this. That was the clearly stated consensus,” he said of this week’s meeting in Kuwait of the coalition to defeat ISIS.
“This is not over. Not even the caliphate is completely down. Then we have to work the rhetoric and the message of hatred that they had put out. We have to work against this ideology. We have to work against its financing, and there’s a very strong collaboration. We’ve now grown to 70 nations and four international organizations, so it continues to have more nations come in as they recognize,” Mattis added. “…For example, several of the most recent nations are African nations who do not have an ISIS problem yet, and they’re wanting to make certain they don’t get into one.”