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American Troops Capture ISIS Leader In Iraq


American troops have captured an ISIS leader in Iraq. Right now that's about all we know. The Pentagon won't give his name or describe what what he's done or where he's been taken, but the Pentagon does say there will be more raids like this one now that a team of special operations troops based in Northern Iraq has launched a new phase of this war. Joining us to talk about this is NPR's national security editor Phil Ewing. And Phil, it sounds like the Pentagon is being pretty closed-mouth about this. What do we know for sure?

PHIL EWING, BYLINE: Well, what we know is that they captured this guy at some point in the recent past inside of Iraq, and they've compared it to a raid that took place last year into Syria in which the Army's elite secretive Delta Force went after a guy who was closely tied with ISIS's oil operations. And he wound up being killed in that raid, but the American troops captured his wife and a lot of documents from his home which they were able to use to plan other operations in Syria and Iraq, and that's what they're aiming for with this one. What we don't know is who this guy is, what connection to ISIS he has or what the U.S. hopes to gain in terms of intelligence or future operational planning out of his capture.

MCEVERS: But is this the beginning of a new phase in the war against ISIS?

EWING: It is because the United States has focused mostly on airstrikes and training other forces on the ground up into this point. And what it wants to begin doing now is sending this so-called expeditionary targeting force after ISIS terrorists and bringing them back alive, capturing them and interrogating them as opposed to just blowing them up in airstrikes the way they were before. And they say that this will create new inputs or new process for the U.S. to be able to use for further operations against ISIL.

MCEVERS: Bringing people back alive - I mean, that means the U.S. has to figure out what to do with them after they were questioned. I mean, will these people be going to Guantanamo Bay? What's going to happen to them?

EWING: They will not be going to Guantanamo Bay. U.S. national security officials say they do not want to get back into the terrorism detainee business. In fact, there have been no people...


EWING: ...Sent to Gitmo since 2008. What's happening with the Iraqi who was captured this week - or who we learned about this week - is he's being interrogated by Iraqi - American troops, I should say. And when they're finished with him, he'll be turned over to the Iraqi government. That's what they did with the woman captured in Syria who I talked about a little bit earlier, Umm Sayyaf, who was the wife of this ISIS target. And this is something that the U.S. would even do with the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and, in fact, the head of the CIA, John Brennan, recently talked about this with our colleague Mary Louise Kelly. And here's what he had to say about that.


JOHN BRENNAN: He's an Iraqi. We work very closely with the Iraqi government and the security intelligence services, and depending on where he was captured, I think whatever prevailing legal systems were there at the time, it would be addressed that way. So a lot of these individuals are put into the judicial system or the penal system of...

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Of the country where...

BRENNAN: ...Of the country where they're captured, yes.

MCEVERS: And so what would happen to them, then? Are they actually being tried and, if found guilty, then imprisoned in Iraq?

EWING: Well, so far this has only happened with one person whom we know about, this Umm Sayyaf from Syria. The U.S. wants the Iraqis to prosecute her and put her into prison, presumably, but that hasn't actually happened yet. She's still in Iraqi custody, but that case hasn't really moved forward. And just kind of as a hedge, the Justice Department said last month that it was going to charge her - as in the U.S. Justice Department - and help with the Iraqis with their prosecution. So however that case goes forward, it isn't quite clear, you know, what precedent that will set, but clearly the U.S. wants to push the burden for doing this off itself, off the U.S. process if it needs to and have the Iraqis take it over.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's national security editor Phil Ewing. Thanks so much.

EWING: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Phil Ewing
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