President Donald Trump said in a speech Wednesday morning that the ISIS prisoners who escaped in Syria have been “largely recaptured.”
His anti-ISIS envoy, James Jeffrey, testified about an hour earlier that he does not know the whereabouts of the escaped prisoners.
“We do not know where they are,” Jeffrey, who serves as both Special Envoy for the Global Coalition To Defeat ISIS and as Special Representative for Syria Engagement, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Jeffrey said the number of escapees is “now over a hundred.”
In a Tuesday interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US has “only had reports of a little bit more than 100 that have escaped.” He did not mention anything about escapees being recaptured.
Esper said that the fact that just over 100 prisoners had escaped was a better outcome than anticipated.
“The (Kurdish) SDF, and we remain in contact with them, are maintaining guards at the prisons they are in control of. So, right now, we have not seen this big prison break that we all expected. So that’s the good news piece,” he said.
Jeffrey also sought to emphasize the positive.
“Almost all of the prisons that the SDF were guarding are still secured. The SDF still has people there. We are monitoring that as best we can. We still have forces in Syria working with the SDF, and one of the top priorities is these prisons,” he said.
Trump said that SDF commander General Mazloum Abdi had assured him that “ISIS is under very, very strict lock and key, and the detention facilities are being strongly maintained.” Trump said a mere “few” prisoners — “a small number, relatively speaking” — had escaped.
It was not clear if Trump was claiming that the general had told him that the escapees had been “largely recaptured” or if this was Trump’s own assertion.
After Trump’s Wednesday speech about Syria and Turkey, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins asked him about the discrepancy between his comments and Jeffrey’s. Trump did not respond as he walked out of the room.
Spokespeople for the Department of Defense and the State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Trump’s claim.