Countries allied with the United States in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group failed on Tuesday to come to a final agreement on what to do with foreign militants captured in Syria who could pose a security threat if they were to escape justice.
A meeting with around a dozen of defence ministers in Rome ended without agreeing how to deal with hundreds of foreign fighters detained by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The US delegation at the closed-door meeting, led by Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, had hoped to persuade allies to take more responsibility for the militants.
One option discussed is to take detained IS fighters back to their country of origin for prosecution – something Western allies have shown little enthusiasm for.
“It was not resolved in a final way, it is being worked,” Mattis told reporters travelling with him from Rome to Brussels.
Mattis said there was no blanket solution to the detainee problem, and each case would have to be looked at carefully.
“The most important thing is we figure out how we are going to deal with this, that we can deal with it, we don’t paralyse ourselves and just say there is nothing we can do … That is the one thing I will say: doing nothing is not an option.”
More than 5000 militants have travelled from Europe to join IS, including 900 from France and 750 from Britain.
French officials have repeated that French militants caught by SDF fighters should be prosecuted by local forces and that Paris had no intention of bringing them back to their home soil.
“They are fighters. They are French, but they are our enemies. The conclusion is that they will be judged by those who they fought,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on 7 February.
The names of the countries attending the meeting were not disclosed.
READ MORE ►
The foreign fighter issue received renewed attention when US officials said that the SDF had captured two of four militants known as the “Beatles” for their English accents.
“We don’t want them going back on the streets. We don’t want them on the street in Ankara. We don’t want them on the street in Tunis, Paris or Brussels,” Mattis said.
When asked whether Washington would consider moving some of the detainees to Guantanamo Bay, Mattis declined to comment.
In his annual speech to Congress, US President Donald Trump vowed to keep the detention facility open.
“I just signed an order directing Secretary Mattis to re-examine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay,” Trump said last month.