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How to Prevent the Re-Emergence of ISIS Core

ISIS affiliated people released after an amnesty by the Kurdish-led Self Rule administration in N&E Syria. (File)

To prevent ISIS from reconstituting its fighting force, all foreign detainees must be taken back by their home countries.

How to Prevent the Re-Emergence of ISIS Core
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On March 23, 2019, the ISIS terrorist group lost the Battle of Baghuz, its final stronghold in Syria, to a host of local forces supported by the 83-member Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. With this defeat, the group’s self-proclaimed physical “caliphate” was no more. Nonetheless, the loss of its territory in Iraq and Syria did not spell the demise of the group’s ideology or of its core leadership. According to the United Nations, some 10,000 ISIS fighters remained in Syria and Iraq, largely as sleeper cells.

And then there are the thousands of terrorists who were taken prisoner by Coalition forces and are now held in detention centers, while many of their families live in displaced persons camps, waiting to be repatriated to their home countries.

“Today there are about 10,000 ISIS fighters detained by our partners in northeast Syria, including approximately 5,000 Syrians, 3,000 Iraqis, and 2,000 ISIS fighters from outside Syria and Iraq,” said Ian Moss, Deputy Coordinator for Countering Violent Extremism and Terrorist Detentions at the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism.

This group “Constitutes the single largest concentration of terrorist fighters in the world,” and they represent “the most direct pathway to the re-emergence of ISIS Core.”

It is therefore not surprising that ISIS has conducted several raids on these detention facilities attempting to break out its fighters, many of whom are experienced and battle-tested. “ISIS knows that prison breaks work,” said Coordinator Moss. “So far, we have prevented ISIS from freeing these fighters. But there are a range of detention facilities in northeast Syria, and we know they will try to attack them again.”

To prevent ISIS from reconstituting its fighting force, all foreign detainees must be taken back by their home countries. “The only durable solution … is for each country to repatriate, rehabilitate, reintegrate, and where appropriate, prosecute their nationals for crimes they have committed.”

Separately, the family members residing in al-Hol and Roj displaced persons camps, half of whom are children under 12 years old, are extremely vulnerable to recruitment and radicalization by ISIS networks. The international community should similarly prioritize their successful repatriation and reintegration.

“[The United States] will continue to assist countries to repatriate their nationals and facilitate those repatriations on a case-by-case basis. We will also continue to support our partners as they prepare to investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate terrorist offenders securely and humanely.”