U.S. troops in Syria have taken custody of an “enemy combatant” U.S. citizen who surrendered or was captured by U.S.-partnered forces who said he was fighting for ISIS, a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday.
“Syrian Democratic Forces turned over to U.S. forces an American citizen who surrendered to the SDF on or around September 12,” Marine Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, told CNN.
“The US citizen is being legally detained by Department of Defense personnel as a known enemy combatant,” Rankine-Galloway said.
Earlier reports that an American was in the custody of the mostly-Kurdish SDF were not disputed by U.S. officials but they withheld further comment.
In a video briefing to the Pentagon from Baghdad, Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said, “We have seen the same reports” on an American being held by the SDF.
He deferred questions to the State Department, which has yet to comment.
Dillon said he could not immediately recall any other incident involving an American citizen in Iraq or Syria “either being captured or surrendering” after joining up with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
He said that five ISIS fighters, clutching leaflets urging surrender dropped by the U.S. on Raqqa in eastern Syria, had turned themselves into the SDF but that a U.S. citizen was not among them.
Another U.S. military spokesman, Army Maj. Earl Brown, told the Daily Beast, “We are aware of the report that a U.S. citizen believed to be fighting for ISIS surrendered to Syrian Democratic Forces on or about Sept. 12.”
He deferred questions to the Justice Department and added, “The coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and we will pursue ISIS fighters regardless of nationality.”
Fox News reported two military officials confirming that a U.S. citizen believed to have joined up with ISIS was being held by the SDF.
Although Dillon said he was unaware of other incidents of Americans being captured, Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 27, of Virginia, was indicted last November on charges of aiding terrorism after he was captured in Iraq. He was turned over to U.S. authorities and later convicted in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, of charges including conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist group.
In an interview with Kurdish TV after his capture, Khweis claimed he made “a bad decision” to follow a young woman to Mosul and ended up in ISIS training facilities.
“I wasn’t thinking straight, and on the way there I regretted” the decision to join ISIS, he said.
“I don’t see them as good Muslims,” Khweis said of ISIS. “I wanted to go back to America.”
The legal status of foreign fighters caught in Iraq and Syria has been on an ongoing issue for the Obama administration and now the Trump administration.
President Donald Trump indicated during the campaign that foreign fighters who came into the custody of the U.S. military should be sent to the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility for trial before military commissions rather than in civilian courts.