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US ready to help with extremist repatriation
February 13, 2019
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WASHINGTON: The United States is ready to help countries repatriate Daesh extremists detained in Syria but time is of the essence and Washington insists that ultimately it is up to their home governments to come up with solutions.

The window to organise the fighters’ return with US support “is quickly closing,” a US State Department official told AFP, on condition of anonymity.

“We call on all countries to step up and take responsibility for their citizens that went to Syria to fight for the Daesh.” US President Donald Trump’s sudden announcement in December that US troops would be withdrawing from Syria set off a countdown for governments whose citizens, having joined Daesh, were captured by the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Those forces, backed by artillery fire from a US-led coalition, are in a final push this week to retake a last morsel of Daesh-held territory in Syria.

Once the coalition declares it has taken all Daesh territories, the White House is expected to withdraw US troops.

When that happens, the risk is high that “foreign terrorist fighters”, or so-called FTFs, will escape SDF control, posing a new threat.

Several countries that have chosen to leave the extremists in SDF detention − including France − now confront a diplomatic, legal, political and logistical puzzle.

For governments whose own publics have been shaken by terrorist attacks in recent years, it’s thorny problem: how to repatriate suspects held in a war zone by forces that do not belong to a recognized state.

Despite the tough questions − and under pressure from Washington − some governments seem to be figuring it out.

For nearly two weeks, the Trump administration has been pushing its allies to bring their citizens home.

“Repatriating foreign terrorist fighters to their countries of origin and prosecuting them is the best way to prevent them from returning to the battlefield,” the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, Nathan Sales, told AFP.

In total, several hundred foreign extremists − likely some 800 − are in SDF hands, in addition to non-combattant women and children, who also are awaiting repatriation.

US diplomats have seen signs the French government is willing to hold behind-the-scenes talks on how to bring their nationals home.

Agence France-Presse

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