The president is now sending special operators on ISIS capture missions. He has less than 90 days to tell Congress what he plans to do with them.
Of the roughly 200 additional special operations troops the Obama administration is injecting into the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a small, “double-digit number” of elite forces have an expanded mission: capture, rather than kill, the terror group’s leaders.
But Pentagon and White House officials have yet to hammer out where, why, and for how long the U.S. military will hold any future prisoners of the war on terrorism.
“That’s too far out,” said Col. Steve Warren, spokesman in Baghdad for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. and coalition operation against ISIS, on Wednesday. “Let’s let these guys get on the ground and conduct an operation or two first. Those policy-level questions, as far as I know, they’re still being sorted out out in Washington right now.”
The Pentagon will determine what to do with new prisoners on a “case by case,” basis, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at Wednesday’s press conference.
“As it relates to individuals that are detained in the course of these operations, you know, the Department of Defense will have to make a determination,” Earnest said. “We’ll obviously be working closely with the Iraqi government for these raids that are conducted in Iraq. The situation in Syria is obviously more complicated… It’s hard to answer hypotheticals about it now, but ultimately, we’re cognizant of the need to—that at some point, these kinds of questions will have to be answered.”
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the additional special operators deploying to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria were a “specialized expeditionary targeting force” during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. They will free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIS leaders, he said.
U.S. officials say capturing a target often is preferable to killing because of potential intelligence to be gained, but counterterrorism operations under the Obama administration largely have consisted of the latter. In the 16-month-old fight against the Islamic State group, the administration publicly has touted killing only a handful of leaders, usually with airstrikes that keep U.S. combat boots off the ground. Carter’s announcement this week puts any euphemisms to rest.
For operations conducted in Syria, Warren acknowledged the process would likely unfold like the Sayyaf raid: stage outside Syria, enter, conduct the operation, exit Syria, likely back to Iraq with the detainee in tow, and “then able to work with the Iraqi authorities to conduct detention and follow-on operations.”
The senior defense official said the question must be answered soon, because “we’re not equipped to do detention ops on our own.”
Full article: Obama Doesn’t Know What He’ll Do When US Troops Capture an ISIS Leader (Defense One)