First Published: 2018-02-13

Anti-IS coalition grapples with Syria situation
Months of intense fighting has left one-time IS "caliphate" in tatters, but US worried that jihadists could regain foothold in bombed-out region.
Middle East Online

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

ROME - The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group was locked in a debate Tuesday over the future of its campaign in war-ravaged Syria and the fate of foreign jihadist fighters captured there.

Months of intense fighting saw US-backed forces liberate the IS stronghold of Raqa in October, leaving the group's one-time "caliphate" in tatters.

But the US fears that the jihadists could regain a foothold in the bombed-out region.

At Tuesday's meeting, "we're going to speak about the future," US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told journalists as he travelled to Rome.

The thorny issue of what to do with the hundreds of foreign jihadists now detained in Syria will also be a key issue at the meeting in the Italian capital.

Those detainees include two Britons said to have carried out numerous beheadings.

The problem has sparked intense debate in the West about whether such fighters should be returned to their home countries to face justice.

Pentagon official Kathy Wheelbarger, accompanying Mattis, said: "We are working with the coalition on foreign fighter detainees and generally expect those detainees to return to their country of origin for disposition."

But the fate of the two Britons, Alexanda Amon Kotey and El Shafee el-Sheikh -- captured by US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces in January -- remains uncertain.

Britain's Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson told The Sun newspaper last week: "I don't think they should ever set foot in this country again."

The suspects' cell, known as "The Beatles" because of their British accents, is accused of abducting and decapitating around 20 hostages.

The victims included American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded in 2012.

The 14 defence ministers of the anti-IS coalition are also set to discuss operations in the Euphrates valley, the last refuge for fleeing jihadists in Syria.

They will also broach Turkey's controversial military offensive in the Syrian border region of Afrin against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

The YPG has received US backing but is considered by Ankara to be a "terror group".


Iran's Ahmadinejad calls for immediate free elections

Russia pours cold water on UN bid to condemn Iran over missiles to Yemen

Saudi Arabia to boost entertainment in next decade

Merkel calls for end to 'massacre' in Syria

Saudi Arabia to host first Arab Fashion Week

Palestinian dies after being shot by Israeli soldiers

Gulf states urge Syria to end Ghouta violence

Wanted Bahraini militants die at sea en route to Iran

Iraq urges FIFA to lift ban on hosting internationals

Carnage of Ghouta's bombs breaking families

Blockaded Gaza Strip forced to pump sewage into sea

African migrants start hunger strike over Israel expulsion

UN chief 'deeply alarmed' by Eastern Ghouta violence

Three militiamen killed in Libya car bomb attack

Russia denies ‘groundless’ accusations of role in Ghouta killings

Turkey says whoever helps YPG is 'legitimate target'

Morocco dismantles IS-linked terrorist cell

Turkey urged to end gas standoff with Cyprus

PKK attack near Iraq kills 2 Turkish soldiers

Netanyahu confidant to testify against him

Iran emergency teams recover bodies from plane crash site

Ten dead in more Syrian regime strikes on East Ghouta

Bahrain activist sentenced to 5 years for Yemen tweets

Lebanese president makes landmark visit to Iraq

US declares readiness to talk Mideast peace

Bloodbath in Syria's eastern Ghouta

Abbas calls for peace conference in rare UN speech

Egyptian court adds leading government critic on terror list

Yemen government offensive threatens heritage site

Turkey considering chemical castration for child abusers

45 civilians killed in air strikes on rebel enclave

Cairo sheds Ottoman-era street names amid Egypt-Turkey crisis

New woes for Israeli PM in fresh graft cases

Maghreb countries wary about jihadists relocating from Iraq, Syria

Erdogan says Turkey will besiege Afrin "swiftly"

Turkey releases leading pro-Kurdish politician

5 Iranian police killed in Sufi protests

Iran finds wreckage of crashed plane on top of mountain

Israel’s gas contract with Egypt: deal or no deal?

Somalia appoints new police, intelligence chiefs

Iran plane crash rescue search halted for second night

France reaffirms commitment to Iran nuclear deal

Turkey warns Syria against protecting Kurds

Abbas warms up to Moscow amid cold US-Palestinian ties

Israel strikes 'historic' gas contract with Egypt