Emphasis on “in Syria.” If you’re looking for the total number of sprung Gitmo alums who’ve returned to the battlefield worldwide, e.g. in Afghanistan, think closer to 200. Presumably that includes some of the Taliban Five whom we handed over for accused deserter Bowe Bergdahl, one member of which vowed to start killing Americans again soon after he was released.
Does the public care about this anymore? Does the White House? Or does the goal of emptying Guantanamo, even if it means sending reinforcements to ISIS, trump all? I recall reading somewhere that Obama and his inner circle were surprised at the amount of backlash after the Bergdahl deal was announced. Since when do Americans get upset about sending jihadis back into the kill zone?
The intelligence offers a mixed picture, and officials say the figures are not exact. But they are certain at least some of the released detainees are fighting with the Islamic State, or ISIS, on the ground inside Syria. Others are believed to be supporting Al Qaeda or the affiliated al-Nusra Front in Syria.
A number of former detainees also have chosen to help these groups from outside the country, financing operations and supporting their propaganda campaigns…
Of the 620 detainees released from Guantanamo Bay, 180 have returned or are suspected to have returned to the battlefield…
[T]hese officials said the former detainees who have joined ISIS in Syria have migrated from the European and African countries which agreed to receive them from the United States.
To repeat: Does the public care about this anymore? Before you say yes, re-read this post written by Ed nearly four years ago about a declassified DNI report that noted recidivism among freed detainees was increasing even at the time. Four years later, Obama felt bold enough to trade five Taliban members, one of whom led an Al Qaeda offensive inside Afghanistan the day before 9/11, for a guy whom witnesses say went AWOL and inspired a search that may have ended in the deaths of several of his fellow soldiers. Americans are inured to releasing dangerous jihadis by now for several reasons, I think. One is that it’s been happening for many years; Bush released plenty himself. Another may be simple fatigue over playing political football with Gitmo. Democrats have been whining for more than a decade about closing the prison and releasing the remaining detainees to the custody of our “allies” in Yemen, etc. At some point, people just get tired of having this argument. And a third reason, I suspect, is exasperation at the sheer volume of violent lunatics running wild in the Middle East right now. It was controversial to free detainees in the first few years after 9/11 because people still believed that Al Qaeda might be destroyed and that that might quiet down the rest of the jihadis in the region, at least for awhile. Thirteen years later, ISIS has its own caliphate, Al Qaeda’s inside Yemen’s capital, and the Taliban is preparing for a resurgence in Afghanistan as NATO withdraws. What’s another 200 guys on the battlefield when you’re staring at a problem like that?
New from CNN, here’s a perfect example of what I mean:
The U.S. intelligence community now believes two key terrorist operatives targeted by the United States in the opening night of attacks in Syria are still alive and could be actively plotting, multiple officials tell CNN.
The operatives are key members of Khorasan Group, the al Qaeda affiliate entrenched in Syria that the United States has declared poses a great risk to American national security. One official with direct knowledge of the latest U.S. assessment said the working assumption now is that both Muhsin al-Fadhli, the leader of the group, and David Drugeon, a French jihadist and key member, who is believed to be a skilled bomb-maker, are alive. The United States does not know with certainty if they are injured.
An intelligence analyst with knowledge of the intelligence tells CNN “its 99.5% certain” they are alive.
We can’t take out the big targets we’re after. Who has time to worry about the smaller ones, who haven’t seen action for a decade or more?
Still, this is newsy if only because it’s something that’ll be on Congress’s menu next year if Republicans retake the Senate next week. They could try to pass something blocking further releases from Gitmo (or further prisoner exchanges); the politics of this are sufficiently in hawks’ favor that they might even get enough Democrats to sign on in the Senate to break Reid-led filibuster. But what reason is there to believe Obama would follow that law? He’d claim it was unconstitutional, an infringement on his powers over war as commander-in-chief, and he’d have a stronger argument in that regard than he does for, say, ignoring ObamaCare deadlines or issuing mass amnesties to illegal immigrants. Congress is probably at his mercy here. If Americans don’t like that, they should have voted for the other guy in 2012. But like I say, at this point, they probably don’t care.