PARIS (Reuters) - France and Britain on Tuesday accused Turkey and the United States of undoing five years worth of work in fighting Islamic State and scrambled to define how to react should militants escape prisons and camps in Syria.
Turkey has pressed on with its assault against Kurdish militias in northern Syria, while the Russia-backed Syrian army roared into one of the most hotly contested cities abandoned by U.S. forces in President Donald Trump’s retreat.
“These decisions put into question five years of effort by the coalition,” French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told lawmakers.
“This intervention is devastating for our collective security with the inevitable resurgence of Islamic State in northern Syria and also probably northwest Iraq.”
Britain’s Foreign Minister Dominic Raab echoed those comments and called Turkey’s offensive “reckless” and “counterproductive.”
Ankara’s unilateral offensive has angered Washington and Turkey’s main European NATO allies who fear a return of Islamic State in the region. European countries are especially concerned about what foreign Islamic State fighters and adults returning to Europe.
If the militias redeploy prison guards to the front line, there is a risk of jail-breaks. Europeans comprise a fifth of around 10,000 Islamic State fighters held captive in Syria by Kurdish militias with thousands of women and children in camps.
Before Turkey began its offensive last week, European nations had been assessing how to create a mechanism that could ultimately see foreign fighters moved from Syria to face trial in Iraq for war crimes. They are trying to speed up those plans.
But with both British and French special forces being forced to leave northern Syria because of the U.S. withdrawal, their options are increasingly limited.
“We don’t want to see foreign fighters return to the U.K,” Raab told parliament. “We think the right course is for them to face justice, if that’s possible and practical, in the region, but of course he is right to say given the fluid situation that we’re going to have to keep all of this under review,” he said answering a question on whether a new policy was needed.
France has been adamant that it will not take back adults that had joined Islamic State and it wants to seal an agreement with Iraq on taking foreign nationals.
France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was urgent to ensure security around the camps and that would he travel to Iraq soon to hold talks with national and Kurdish leaders on the issue.
“They (fighters) can act quickly if these camps are not sufficiently guarded,” he said. “We extremely vigilant and are speaking to all the actors to ensure that whatever happens, security is preserved,” he said.
Reporting by John Irish; Editing by David Gregorio