The global head of the coalition to defeat ISIS and the United States’ Special Representative for Syria engagement recently told Congress that approximately 100 ISIS prisoners have escaped imprisonment since Turkey invaded northeast Syria. He also admitted that the US has no idea as to their whereabouts.
James Jeffrey met with the House Foreign Affairs Committee where he told NY Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel that so far, over 100 ISIS prisoners had escaped detention where they were being held in custody of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Jeffrey’s confirmation of the escapes just further reinforce concerns from US officials, including those of Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper, who said during the hearing,
“We know from previous briefings these ISIS detainees are among the most dangerous fighters, intent on attacking the United States and its allies… Does the US have an idea where these individuals are, and is the US able to monitor or effectively operate against ISIS, given the withdrawal of US forces?”
Jeffrey answered, “We would say that the number is now over 100. We do not know where they are.”
“We would say that the number is now over 100. We do not know where they are.”
Previously, experts have expressed concerns about the potential risk of this very thing happening, given the recent chaos of the Turkish invasion into Syria.
Daniel Byman, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, “We know in the past, they’ve done prison breakouts. They’ve seen it as a top priority.”
Of course, Trump is doing his best to downplay any real threat, saying that everything was under control during a recent press conference. Trump said that ISIS fighters are “under very, very strict lock and key. ” He would only admit that “a small number got out, relatively speaking” and then added a little stretch of the truth saying, “they have largely been recaptured.”
During the same congressional hearing, Ilham Ehmed, the co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, said that actually 600 ISIS members, along with family had escaped.
The US’s role in the battle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria remains unclear and Trump has said that only a small number of US soldiers will remain in Syria.
John Cohen, a former senior Homeland Security official and ABC News contributor said, “Withdrawing forces from Syria could impact our national security in two ways: First, If the security situation in Syria deteriorates, the instability will allow for the reemergence of terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaida — groups that want to attack the U.S.”
Cohen added, “If ISIS fighters return to their countries of origin they could represent a significant threat to countries across the European Union as well as the U.S.”