Washington, DC- U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), a member of the National Security Working Group, sent a letter to President Obama that calls for a more robust strategy in Syria. While the Administration has dedicated significant humanitarian aid to combat human suffering, Casey has made the case that these steps are needed to change the dynamics on the ground. Without additional assistance to the moderate opposition, Bashar al-Assad will keep trying to bomb and starve the Syrian people into submission. Earlier this week Senator Casey met with Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba to hear first-hand about the situation on the ground.
“Syria is critical to U.S. long-term strategic interests. Regimes and terrorist groups that plot against the U.S. every day – like the Iranian regime, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda have a stake in this region so it is imperative that we address this threat,” said Senator Casey. “The Administration has taken important steps to provide humanitarian assistance to those suffering in Syria and reduce Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons, but a more robust strategy is needed. A victory by Assad would be a boost to terrorist groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime.”
The full text of Senator Casey’s letter can be seen below:
Dear Mr. President,
In recent weeks, Bashar al-Assad’s reign of terror has intensified. His forces have used starvation as a war tactic by refusing to deliver desperately-needed food assistance to opposition-controlled areas, bombed an elementary school in Northern Aleppo killing 17 children, rained barrel bombs on residential areas in violation of UN Security Resolution 2139, and regained the former opposition-stronghold of Homs. Meanwhile, he has declared his intention to run for President. The United States has clear national security interests in Syria, in stabilizing the region, ending Assad’s slaughter of civilians, and confronting the Iranian regime and Hezbollah. However, Assad clearly believes he has the upper hand on the battlefield.
First, I commend the work you and your administration have already done to help the people of Syria, a country that journalist Nicholas Kristof called the “world capital of human suffering.” The State Department and USAID have mobilized a remarkable humanitarian aid effort thus far. American taxpayers have provided substantial assistance to help those suffering in Syria and the refugee communities in the region. Your administration’s agreement with Russia to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons has since resulted in the removal of 92.5 percent of Syria’s declared stockpile. However, the humanitarian crisis is only expanding as the conflict rages on, and Assad has been deploying chlorine gas to terrorize Syrian civilians and circumvent the chemical weapons agreement.
The U.S. State Department recently highlighted Syria’s critical importance to the United States’ strategic, long-term interests in its 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism. The State Department’s findings that civilians in Syria were primarily the target of terrorist violence are deeply troubling. The report found that Iran and Hezbollah provided critical support to Assad’s regime by radically boosting Assad’s capabilities and exacerbating the conflict. The report also noted that the Syrian conflict “empowered ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] to expand its cross-border operations in Syria, and dramatically increase attacks against Iraqi civilians and government targets in 2013.”
I remain firmly convinced that a more robust U.S. strategy is needed to change the balance of power on the ground and prevent either of two scenarios from occurring. First, that Bashar al-Assad could bomb and starve out any opposition and thus retain his grip on power in Syria. Second, as members of your administration have warned, that terrorist organizations could take advantage of the chaos in Syria to establish a new safe haven, like a new Pakistani FATA, from which to launch attacks against U.S. interests.
Yesterday, I met with President Ahmad Jarba, to hear firsthand about the situation on the ground. I urge your administration to continue efforts to help the Syrian opposition bring Assad’s tyrannical rule to an end and to stave off extremist influence. The State Department’s commitment of $27 million in non-lethal assistance should be expanded to include additional assistance for the opposition Assistance Coordination Unit and local councils, which are the face of the opposition for Syrian civilians. With U.S. assistance, the opposition can ramp up its efforts to deliver humanitarian assistance and basic services to communities inside Syria.
I am aware of reports that American-made anti-tank rocket systems have made their way to a group of moderate Syrian rebels. Whatever the origin of these systems, I believe their provision can help change the momentum on the ground. However, to take down Assad’s helicopters and bombers, the opposition forces need anti-aircraft weapons. If your Administration judges that there are sufficient safeguards available to track and disable such weapons remotely, I would support their deployment to trusted, vetted Free Syria Army commanders. I fully understand the risks of introducing more of these weapons to the region. However, as long as the regime enjoys control of the skies over Syria, its aircraft will continue regularly and indiscriminately raining bombs and killing Syrian civilians en masse. Little else would have such a profound impact on the balance of power on the battlefield.
The international community has clear interests in stabilizing the region and preventing future atrocities. UN Security Council Resolution 2139 requires that “all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs….” Since the resolution’s adoption on February 22, Human Rights Watch has documented at least 85 barrel bomb strikes in Aleppo alone. This is intolerable.
I ask that your Administration resume its advocacy for an invocation of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Assad continues to violate Security Council Resolution 2139 by deploying barrel bombs against civilians. A tailored and conditional Chapter 7 resolution to respond to the regime’s willful disregard of the UN Security Council and the laws of war would not only hold Assad accountable but would also force Russia to take a stand on Assad’s continued attacks on civilians.
The Senate has repeatedly voiced its concern regarding the deepening conflict in Syria. In July 2013, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reported out S. 960, the Syria Transition Support Act, which authorized lethal assistance to vetted elements of the Syrian opposition. In the bill’s findings, the Committee noted that it was vital to the United States’ national security interests to limit the threat posed by extremist groups in Syria. Last month the full Senate agreed to S.Res. 384, which expressed the Senate’s condemnation of the Syrian humanitarian crisis.
The sheer scale of war crimes, human rights abuses, and regional destabilization in the Syrian crisis is, as David Miliband of the International Rescue Committee put it, “a defining humanitarian emergency of this century.” As such, it deserves the United States’ attention and carefully-considered action. I thank you for your leadership on this important issue and stand ready to help bring this conflict to an end.
Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator