Washington, DC- Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), a member of the National Security Working Group and Co-Chair of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Caucus, urged the Obama Administration to resume non-lethal aid to vetted members of Syria’s moderate opposition forces, as part of a strategy to bring the conflict to an end. Senator Casey’s letter to Secretary of State John Kerry comes ahead of a new round of peace talks.
“I have been calling for greater logistical, financial, and material support to vetted elements of the moderate opposition for more than two years,” said Senator Casey. “Regimes and terrorist groups that plot against the U.S. every day - like the Iranian regime and Hezbollah, Al Qaeda have a stake in this region so it is imperative that we continue to address this threat. The need is greater than ever, and the timing could not be more critical.”
The full text of Senator Casey’s letter can be seen below:
Casey Record on Syria
- In August 2011 Senator Casey set forth a comprehensive strategy on Syria.
- November 2012 interview on Syria with Foreign Policy.
- December 2012 speech on Syria.
- February 2013 op-ed on Syria.
- April 2013 op-ed.
- June 2013 statement.
- He visited the region last April and met with Syrian refugees (on the Turkish border).
Dear Secretary Kerry:
Over the past several weeks, moderate elements of the opposition in Syria have shown their determination to roll back the gains of extremist fighters, while continuing to stand their ground against the Assad regime’s brutal airstrikes and sieges. It is clearly in the United States’ national security interest to see these moderate opposition forces succeed, as part of a broader strategy to end the fighting and stabilize the region.
With peace talks set to begin in less than two weeks, I write to urge you to resume the United States’ assistance to the moderate opposition. I have been calling for greater logistical, financial, and material support to vetted elements of the moderate opposition for more than two years. The need is greater than ever, and the timing could not be more critical.
This year will mark the three-year anniversary of this terrible conflict, which has killed over 130,000 Syrians and driven millions from their homes. In September 2013, IHS Jane’s estimated that “approximately 1,000 militant groups have emerged as operational entities across Syria and comprise approximately 100,000 fighters” from across the ideological spectrum. Extremist organizations, like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and other al-Qaeda affiliates, have gained a foothold. The same IHS Jane’s report indicated that Jabhat al-Nusra fighters numbered between 5,000 and 7,000, while ISIS’s 5,000 jihadis had an outsized strategic impact on the conflict.
Charles Lister of the Brookings Institution Doha Center recently estimated that as of January 1, 2014, ISIS controlled at least 35 Syrian municipalities and had established operations in ten of Syria’s fourteen governorates. Press reports indicate that moderate opposition forces, under the Supreme Military Council (SMC), have now begun to turn the tide, rejecting the violent extremism of ISIS and its affiliates. Their efforts may have helped open a limited window of opportunity in which United States’ assistance can help change momentum on the ground.
Senators from both sides of the aisle have agreed that supporting the moderate opposition is in our national security interest. In March 2013, I introduced S. 617, the Syria Democratic Transition Act of 2013. With strong bipartisan support, this bill would authorize assistance to the Syrian political opposition, to support the establishment of a functioning transitional government. In June, I joined my colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee in voting for S. 960, the Syria Transition Support Act of 2013, of which I am a proud cosponsor. S. 960 would authorize the Administration to provide lethal and non-lethal assistance to vetted elements of the SMC, the Free Syria Army, and other moderate anti-Assad factions.
The provision of non-lethal assistance, including food, medicine, tents, blankets, and radios, alone could help give forces under the Supreme Military Council the morale boost they need to prevail in their fight for a democratic and peaceful Syria. Given the volatile and unpredictable situation on the ground, the State Department should make every effort to mitigate the risk that any assistance going into Syria does not fall into the hands of extremist or pro-Assad groups.
For the upcoming negotiations to yield results, the Administration should articulate clear goals and help the opposition negotiate from a position of strength. Material support could help create space for the Free Syrian Army and aligned moderate fighters to consolidate and extend their gains. Failure to support the moderate opposition could prolong the fighting and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.
I urge you to resume the State Department’s non-lethal assistance to vetted elements of Syria’s moderate military opposition, as part of a broader strategy to bring this conflict to an end and prevent a deeper security and governance vacuum from developing in this key region. I look forward to working with you on this important issue and thank you for your leadership.
Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator