Turkey will take custody of Islamic State prisoners only in areas of northern Syria where Turkish troops are trying to create a buffer, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday, contradicting a key claim made by President Donald Trump.
With Turkey’s incursion now in its second day, it will only assume responsibility for the militants held under arrest in the “safe zone” it plans to create, Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara. If the camps or prisons housing the militants are outside the zone, Turkey is “not responsible,” he said.
Those places “will be under the responsibility of Americans and others, or the regime,” the minister said. “I can’t take the responsibility for terrorists that are not in our area.”
It wasn’t clear if there are any detainees in the planned buffer, and the biggest prisoner camp lies farther south of the zone.
Turkey plans to establish a buffer 480 kilometers (298 miles) wide and about 30 kilometers deep in northern Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly last month. In an Oct. 6 statement, the White House said Turkey would be “responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial ‘Caliphate’ by the United States.”
In two tweets on Monday, Trump also said that “they must, with Europe and others, watch over. …the captured ISIS fighters and families.”
Warning that a Turkish incursion would “reverse the successful effort to defeat” Islamic State, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have said earlier that about 12,000 Islamic State militants and about 70,000 of their family members, who are currently in jails or camps, may be freed by “ISIS cells.”
Cavusoglu also said Turkey’s military operation will be “limited, proportionate and measured.” The aim is to “stabilize the region, bring peace and ensure the territorial integrity of Syria,” he said.
(Updates with Trump’s comments in sixth paragraph.)
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