Vladimir Putin Doesn't Think Turkey Can Control ISIS Fighters in Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed concern that Turkey's invasion of northeastern Syria might allow dangerous Islamic State militants to flee Kurdish detention.

Putin said Friday he was not convinced that the Turkish army would be able to establish control of the conflict area quickly enough to prevent dangerous militants escaping prisons currently run by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led coalition of militias now under attack by Turkey and its proxies.

Speaking at a meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States council of heads of state in Turkmenistan, Putin noted there remain "active militants" loyal to ISIS in northern Syria, state news agency Tass reported.

Turkey's assault is designed to clear Kurdish-led forces from a buffer zone on the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkey considers the People's Protection Units (YPG)—which leads the SDF—terrorists and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has been fighting an intermittent guerrilla war in Turkey since the 1980s.

But while Ankara claims its operation is an anti-terrorist one, the international community is worried that the assault will leave Kurdish troops unable to guard some 12,000 ISIS fighters being held in detention facilities in northeastern Syria.

"Kurdish units used to keep an eye on those areas but now that Turkish troops are entering the region, they may just flee away," Putin explained. "I'm not sure that the Turkish army will be able to take control of the situation, and quickly."

He cited intelligence from the Russian military which suggested there were hundreds, possibly thousands of militants in the region. "It's a real threat to all of us," Putin said. "Where will they go? Will they go deeper into Syria, to areas that no one controls, and then move to other countries of the region via Iran?"

He said that the CIS nations should "understand what things are like there and muster our intelligence resources to thwart this new threat."

President Donald Trump has said that the U.S. took "the worst of the worst" Kurdish-held ISIS prisoners into custody, but thousands remain in northeastern Syria.

Surviving ISIS cells have reportedly been plotting prison raids to free their comrades, with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi specifically calling on his followers to attack detention centers and refugee camps.

Trump—who abruptly withdrew U.S. support for the SDF leaving them open to the subsequent Turkish assault—dismissed concerns about escaped fighters this week.

The president said freed ISIS militants are "going to be escaping to Europe. That's where they want to go, they want to go back to their homes."

Trump has long been frustrated at the refusal of European nations to take back their citizens who traveled to fight for ISIS' so-called caliphate. The White House said Turkey would now take responsibility for the prisoners, though the process by which this would happen is unclear.

Vladimir Putin, ISIS, Turkey, Syria, fighters
Russian President Vladimir Putin is pictured during a meeting in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, on October, 10, 2019. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images/Getty