WASHINGTON D.C. – Fearing catastrophic consequences in Syria following reports that American antitank missiles supplied to Syrian rebels are playing an unexpectedly prominent role in shaping the Syrian battlefield, Rep. Jackie Walorski (IN-02) wrote a letter to President Obama urging the Administration to clearly define our role in the region.
The American-produced missiles, as well as various other weapons and ammunition, were delivered under a two-year-old covert program coordinated between the United States and its allies to the Syrian Arab Coalition. Last week, it was reported Syrian rebels used the weapons to slow the Russian-backed offensive aimed at recapturing ground from the rebels.
In the letter, Walorski writes, “As Putin’s Russia asserts itself and takes on a larger role in the conflict in Syria, it is time for the United States to have a serious conversation about whether or not we as a nation are willing to continue serving as the leader for freedom and human rights around the world.”
“I implore your administration to clearly define our goals in Syria. Only then will we in Congress be in a position to assist you in delivering the best ways and means to achieve those objectives. There is no substitute for American leadership in the world. Absent that leadership, I worry that the world will be a more unsafe and unstable place.”
The full letter is below.
Dear Mr. President:
I am writing with great concern regarding your administration’s strategy to provide arms to various groups in Syria fighting the Assad regime and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Recent reports have brought to light American-made TOW antitank missiles given to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), who the CIA has been helping on a classified basis. Last week also saw an airdrop of 50 tons of munitions, including ammunition, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar rounds, to the Syrian Arab Coalition, a relatively new force dedicated to fighting ISIS.
Like you, I want to see a resolution to this terrible and complex situation. However, I want to ensure that material given to forces fighting against Assad and ISIS is backed by a clear strategy and that measures are in place to ensure it does not fall into the wrong hands.
Accordingly, I would like to request a written response, or classified briefing as necessary, to the following questions:
- The Syrian and Russian militaries have begun making a push in northern Syria. Though the push is ostensibly against ISIS, the evidence is clear that they are targeting anti-Assad forces that the CIA has been aiding, effectively undoing years of work. Was there any communication with the Russian or Syrian governments before the airdrop? Do you have assurances from either that they will not launch strikes on the Syrian Arab Coalition, which would undermine the airdrop?
- Administration officials told NBC News that they ensured the Syrian Arab Coalition was fighting ISIS – not the Syrian military or President Assad – before conducting the airdrop. The FSA, on the other hand, has long been fighting the Assad regime. How does your administration prioritize groups fighting the Assad regime versus those fighting against ISIS? Who receives priority? What is the type and level of material given to groups fighting one versus the other?
- Does the aforementioned officials’ insistence on giving munitions to a group fighting ISIS, not Assad, mean it is no longer a goal of the administration to see a leadership transition in Syria? Is the administration planning to send future equipment to groups fighting Assad? What role has the Russian military’s recent actions in Syria had on which groups to equip?
- What tracking has been implemented to ensure that equipment given to groups does not fall into the wrong hands? What contingency and accountability measures are in place should this happen?
This issue is only a symptom of a broader issue facing our nation and the world. As Putin’s Russia asserts itself and takes on a larger role in the conflict in Syria, it is time for the United States to have a serious conversation about whether or not we as a nation are willing to continue serving as the leader for freedom and human rights around the globe. Further, we must closely examine the impact our action – and inaction – is having on our friend, Israel. As the only democracy in the Middle East, we must remain committed to supporting Israel’s security. Should weapons fall into the hands of its enemies, it has the potential to make a bad situation worse.
It is clear that the status quo is neither sufficient nor sustainable. It has permitted Russia to fill the void left by our absence and created doubt among our friends. If we desire to continue as a leader in the free world, the time is now for real, substantive action backed by a clear strategy. I am concerned that supplying weapons to groups with conflicting missions confuses the situation further, diminishes effectiveness as resources are spread thin, and prolongs the conflict.
I implore your administration to clearly define our goals in Syria. Only then will we in Congress be in a position to assist you in delivering the best ways and means to achieve those objectives. There is no substitute for American leadership in the world. Absent that leadership, I worry that the world will be a more unsafe and unstable place.
Member of Congress
Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District in Indiana, where she serves as a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, House Armed Services Committee, and House Committee on Agriculture.