Allies slowly taking back some detainees from Syria fighting

WASHINGTON — Succumbing to months of pressure from the United States, several allied nations have taken custody of a few dozen foreign fighters detained in Syria and brought them home to face justice.

Macedonia became the latest country to repatriate detainees captured on the battlefield by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, taking seven Islamic State fighters on Monday. The numbers are just a fraction of the roughly 600 foreign fighters currently being detained by the SDF.

The U.S. hasn’t publicly discussed many of the previous transfers, saying it is up to the home country to reveal any repatriation of detainees from Syria. But Navy Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, said the total so far this year is “a couple dozen.”

U.S. Central Command commander Gen. Jospeh Votel waits to speaks at the Senate Committee on Armed Services on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 13, 2018. (Pablo Martinez MonsivaisAP)
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There are ongoing U.S. efforts to improve Syrian rebels’ ability to detain what has become a steadily growing number of foreign fighters in Syria, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East told Congress on Tuesday.

According to Pentagon spokesman, Eric Pahon, Macedonia's move to accept the seven fighters "marks a significant milestone in the much-needed cooperative effort to combat the global threat of terrorism," and sets an important example for other coalition members to follow.

The SDF turned the detainees over to Macedonia in Syria, and transportation out of Syria was likely provided by the U.S.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in February declared that “doing nothing is not an option,” and urged reluctant allies during a meeting in Rome to help address the growing crisis by taking responsibility for their own citizens. His pleas, however, got only a lukewarm reception initially.

The SDF is holding thousands of ISIS detainees, but about 600 are identified as foreign fighters from a number of nations. Last week Lebanese officials said they took custody of eight Islamic State fighters and would put them on trial. And late last month the Justice Department said a Detroit-area man, who had been captured by the SDF, was turned over to the U.S. and charged in federal court with providing support to the Islamic State group.

This Oct. 19, 2017, image from drone video, shows damaged buildings in Raqqa, Syria, two days after Syrian Democratic Forces said military operations to oust the Islamic State group ended. A U.S. military official says that the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in January 2018 captured two notorious British members of an Islamic State insurgent cell commonly dubbed “The Beatles” and known for beheading hostages. (Gabriel Chaim/AP)
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The American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces captured two notorious British members of an Islamic State insurgent cell commonly dubbed “The Beatles” and known for beheading hostages, U.S. military officials said Thursday.

Macedonia on Tuesday announced it had taken custody of seven suspected foreign fighters for allegedly participating in the wars in Syria and Iraq. The suspects, all Macedonian nationals aged between 23 and 41, will be charged with "participation in a foreign army, police and paramilitary formations," officials there said.

According to earlier Macedonian official estimates, about 130 Macedonian nationals have joined the Islamic State group and participated in wars in Syria. At least a dozen have been killed in fighting.

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