The Islamic State’s physical territory has dwindled to a ramshackle camp only a few square kilometers wide in eastern Syria’s Deir Ez Zor province. But as the so-called caliphate’s end nears, questions remain about what will become of the roughly 1,000 ISIS fighters who have been detained by U.S. troops and local allies.
While some of the ISIS detainees are front-lines troops and untrained cannon fodder, a significant cohort of them are also more capable militants trained as external operation planners and master bomb makers who pose a threat to the U.S. and its allies.
“It’s closer to a thousand than it is hundreds already in detention, with more to potentially come,” Army Gen. Raymond Thomas, III, who helms U.S. Special Operations Command, said at a Senate hearing Thursday. “[It’s] a huge area of concern for us, especially because they’re being detained by the non-nation state that’s otherwise known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.”
U.S.-backed SDF troops, who fought to clear ISIS out of the eastern portion of Syria, have been in limbo ever since the Trump administration announced that U.S. forces would eventually depart the country after ISIS’ defeat.