The Pentagon said Friday that it will not hold captured ISIS operatives beyond 30 days, after which they will be turned over to the Iraqi government.
“Fourteen to 30 days is a ballpark figure, but even that is not really completely nailed down,” U.S. military spokesman Col. Steve Warren, who is based in Baghdad, told reporters Friday, according to Fox News, adding that there isn’t a “hard definition of short-term.”
Warren also said that U.S. military members operating in Iraq are “not equipped for long-term detention.”
“As we take people off the battlefield we’re just going to have to make the decisions as we go,” the spokesman stated.
Republican lawmakers have expressed concern about the Pentagon’s handling of captured ISIS operatives, particularly in light of President Obama’s push to shutter the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
On Thursday, a group of 15 senators introduced a resolution that would express the sense that the United States should detain captured ISIS fighters at Guantanamo Bay. In his push to close the prison, Obama has refused to send newly-captured terrorist suspects to Guantanamo. Sen. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.), one of the cosponsors, said that the resolution would “pave the way” for the Obama administration to transfer ISIS detainees to Guantanamo Bay.
Additionally, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.), a former Marine, expressed concern to Defense Secretary Ash Carter in January that the president’s policy toward Guantanamo could be forcing the Pentagon to release new-captured suspected terrorists back to the battlefield to resume terrorist activities.
Warren’s comments Friday echoed those of Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook, who said Thursday that the policy for detaining captured ISIS operatives is developing and that they would be handled on a “case-by-case” basis for a “short-term” period.
Earlier this week, reports indicated that U.S. special forces in Iraq had recently captured the head of the ISIS chemical weapons unit, who Cook said Thursday has been handed over to the Iraqi government. Information gleaned from the operative’s capture in Iraq resulted in two air strikes targeting ISIS chemical weapons facilities over the past week.
Warren said that the policy toward ISIS captives is “not a catch-and-release program” and that the military could go back and talk to operatives handed over to the Iraqi government if necessary.
“We are confident [the Iraqis] can hold them. If some escape, then we’ll just go catch them again or kill ‘em,” he further stated.
Warren said that the Pentagon is not considering building detention centers to house captured ISIS fighters.