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No plan on where to detain all Islamic State fighters captured by US commandos

A detainee hangs onto a fence waiting to talk to a guard in Camp 6 at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba in October 2010.

LOUIE PALU, ZUMA/TNS

By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 2, 2015

WASHINGTON — The United States will send another 100 special operators to Syria and Iraq with the explicit mission to kill or capture Islamic State leaders. However, there is no plan for where to detain all the militants taken alive.

Previously, enemy fighters captured in Iraq and Afghanistan were sent to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and held there indefinitely for security reasons or until the United States prosecuted or transferred them. At its peak, the facility in Cuba held about 800 detainees. But President Barack Obama had made closing the Guantanamo Bay facility one of his campaign promises. Since 2009, no new detainees have been sent there.

It is likely some of the raids by the Expeditionary Targeting Force announced by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on Tuesday will result in the capture of some Islamic State militants, some of whom could be Syrian or foreign fighters.

The units will include “a small number of highly skilled commandos conducting very precise, very limited operations,” said Col. Steve Warren, the Baghdad-based spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve. “Certainly it’s our preference to capture in all cases. It allows us to collect intelligence.”

In Iraq, the United States is operating under the authority of the Iraqi government. In the last raid to yield a captured Islamic State member, the United States eventually turned the prisoner over to the Iraqi Kurds. The prisoner, captured in a May raid in Syria, was Iraqi Umm Sayyaf, wife of killed Islamic State financier Abu Sayyaf.

But with the United States pushing for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad, White House spokesman Josh Earnest admitted Wednesday that the handling of Islamic State prisoners who are Syrian is more complex.

“As it relates to individuals who are detained” by the new Expeditionary Targeting Force, Earnest said. “[The Department of Defense] will have to make a determination” on what to do with them. We’ll obviously be working closely with the Iraqi government in raids that are conducted in Iraq – the situation in Syria is obviously more complicated.”

“I think on the case by case basis, it’ll be determined how to resolve the cases of individuals who are detained in these raids,” Earnest said.

Warren said it was too early to determine what will happen to non-Iraqi captured fighters.

“That’s too far out,” he said. “Let’s get these guys on the ground and conducting operations first. Those policy level questions, as far as I know, are still being sorted out in Washington.”

One thing is certain, Earnest said, captured Islamic State fighters will not be sent to Guantanamo Bay.

“I would certainly rule out for you any additional prisoners to the facility – not even temporarily,” he told reporters Wednesday.

Copp.Tara@Stripes.com

Twitter: @TaraCopp