U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS meeting at the State Department in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)

Trump Says Europe Must Take ISIS Prisoners or They’ll Be Freed

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump demanded that European nations take back their citizens who joined Islamic State and were captured by U.S.-allied forces in Syria and Iraq, warning the prisoners would otherwise be released.

“Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing,” Trump said in a subsequent tweet, adding that the U.S. is “pulling back” once it can claim a “100% Caliphate victory.”

Trump has frequently harangued U.S. allies for what he considers their inadequate contribution to NATO and other mutual defense arrangements. His abrupt announcement in December that he would withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, following a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, rattled allies led by France, where President Emmanuel Macron again wondered about the U.S. commitment to NATO.

U.S. officials have estimated there are about 800 prisoners from four dozen countries at a series of Kurdish-run prisons and holding facilities across northern Syria. Kurdish officials have estimated the number of family members of captured fighters may top 4,000.

As Trump seeks to withdraw the U.S. military from Syria, there’s concern that the Kurds -- facing the threat of a Turkish attack in the absence of their American allies -- may be unable or unwilling to hold the prisoners. That risks ISIS fighters being released to again take up arms.

Another potential fate for the militant captives is that they end up in the custody of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The U.S. preference has been for countries that the ISIS fighters originally came from to take responsibility for them. But most foreign governments have been reluctant to do so for fear of radicalizing cellmates or straining their resources.

The U.S. is considering the transfer of some of the most hardened fighters to the American military camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the alleged perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks are still held. Trump did not mention that possibility in his Saturday night tweets.

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