US forces capture 'key' ISIS operative

Pentagon calls it crucial development in fight against ISIS but spectre of Abu Ghraib looms

WASHINGTON • An elite US Special Operations force has captured a significant Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) operative in Iraq and is expected to apprehend and interrogate a number of others in the coming months, ushering in a new and potentially fraught phase in the fight against the extremist group.

US officials described the capture as a crucial development in battling ISIS but said it also raised questions about handling what is likely to be a growing group of detainees.

Although US commandos have captured a handful of ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria in recent years, the Pentagon is faced with the prospect of detaining a larger group of captives and potentially reprising some of the darkest images of the war in Iraq, particularly the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison.

The US military has largely fought ISIS from the sky, and large numbers of the group's fighters have been killed by air strikes. The 200-member Special Operations team, made up mostly of Delta Force commandos, arrived in Iraq recently and is the first major American force on the ground there since the United States pulled out of the country at the end of 2011.

Defence officials said the team had set up safe houses and worked with Iraqi and Kurdish forces to establish informant networks and conduct raids on ISIS leaders and other important militants.

Officials said the detainee, whom they declined to identify, was being interrogated by US officials at a temporary detention facility in the city of Irbil in northern Iraq. They said the plan was to eventually turn him over to Iraqi or Kurdish officials.

Several Pentagon officials declined to say how much information they had got from the detainee or how cooperative he had been. They said it could take weeks or months to finish questioning him.

Defence Department officials say the commandos, referred to at the Pentagon as a "specialised expeditionary targeting force", will almost certainly increase the amount of intelligence on ISIS available to the US, including information about operations extracted from laptops and cellphones.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest has said the commandos are to "go and scoop up paperwork and hard drives and other information that can be critical" to US strategy.

Defence Secretary Ash Carter on Monday said of the commando force: "It's a tool that we introduced as part of the accelerated operations to conduct raids of various kinds, seizing places and people, freeing hostages and prisoners of ISIS, and making it such that ISIS has to fear that anywhere, anytime, it may be struck."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2016, with the headline 'US forces capture 'key' ISIS operative'. Subscribe