Ahead Of President Trump's Meeting With Erdogan, Durbin & Senate Democrats Press President Trump For Comprehensive Plan That Addresses Unanswered Questions About Admin's Efforts To Counter ISIS
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), today joined top Senate Democrats in a letter to President Donald Trump requesting that the President develop and submit a comprehensive strategy to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Senators’ letter comes amid ongoing tensions in Northeast Syria, including the escape of at least one hundred ISIS detainees—a direct result of President Trump’s decision to greenlight Turkey’s military invasion of northern Syria—and ongoing threats posed by ISIS to our national security, that of our allies and partners, and our interests in the Middle East, despite the recent death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“Despite the recent death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) presents an ongoing national security threat to the United States, our allies, and our interests,” the Senators wrote. “It is imperative that we remain closely engaged with our allies and partners in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS and the violent ideology that has inspired affiliated groups and attacks throughout the world.”
In the letter, the Senators emphasize that Turkey’s military invasion of Northeast Syria destabilized an already fragile region, significantly undermined the United States’ collective efforts to defeat ISIS, and put SDF partners and innocent civilians residing in the region at greater risk. The Senators note that since President Erdogan’s incursion, one hundred ISIS detainees have broken out of detention facilities and fled.
Senate Democrats urge President Trump to develop and submit to Congress a comprehensive strategy no later than December 6, 2019, and laid out a series of questions that need to be answered.
Along with Durbin, the letter to President Trump was signed by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Gary Peters (D-MI).
Full text of today’s letter is available here and below:
November 7, 2019
Dear Mr. President,
Despite the recent death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) presents an ongoing national security threat to the United States, our allies, and our interests. It is imperative that we remain closely engaged with our allies and partners in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS and the violent ideology that has inspired affiliated groups and attacks throughout the world.
As of August, the Department of Defense (DOD) estimated that ISIS retained between 14,000 and 18,000 “members” in Iraq and Syria, including up to 3,000 foreign fighters. Furthermore, according to DOD, the SDF continues to hold about 10,000 ISIS fighters in detention centers across northern Syria. Of those, approximately 2,000 are foreign fighters from more than 50 different countries.
Unfortunately, Turkey’s recent incursion into northern Syria significantly undermined our collective efforts to defeat ISIS, put our SDF partners and civilians under their control at great risk, and resulted in the escape of an unidentified number of ISIS. It has also unleashed a humanitarian crisis in northern Syria, including the displacement of several hundred thousand non-combatants, and horrific killings of unarmed civilians, including incidents that Secretary of Defense Esper has described as potential war crimes.
By failing to live up to our commitments to partners and abdicating U.S. leadership in Syria, the United States has effectively given ISIS time and space to reconstitute. There are already reports that since Turkey’s incursion hundreds of ISIS detainees have broken out of prison and fled to unknown locations. Furthermore, following the United States’ betrayal, the Syrian Democratic Forces have sought cooperation with the murderous Assad regime, which has a history of turning a blind eye to ISIS and other violent extremist groups.
We are also significantly troubled by your endorsement of the Putin-Erdogan deal for re-establishing control of northern Syria, which we believe runs counter to U.S. strategic interests and it is likely to result in additional violence against the SDF and Syrian Kurds.
Given the dynamics in northern Syria following your reckless decision to withdraw troops and permit Turkey’s invasion, and the continued threat posed by ISIS, we ask that you submit to Congress a comprehensive plan for Syria not later than December 6, 2019. This plan should, at a minimum, answers to the following questions:
- How many ISIS members are in Iraq and Syria, including those currently detained by the SDF, Turkish forces, or other forces?
- How have the deaths of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other senior ISIS leaders impacted ISIS?
- How many ISIS detainees have escaped, does the administration know the location of these individuals, and how do you plan to address the threat posed by these escaped ISIS fighters?
- How do you plan to stabilize areas formerly controlled by ISIS, including efforts to support, develop, and expand local governance structures?
- What training and support programs, by U.S. agency or department, are specifically focused on countering ISIS?
- How will you address the detention of ISIS fighters? Will you designate an existing official within the State Department to serve as a senior-level coordinator for all efforts related to such detainees?
- How will the United States Government ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Syria?
- How many Syrian nationals have worked with the United States Government? What is the impact of the U.S. withdrawal on these individuals and how will you ensure their safety?
- What diplomatic efforts are in place to achieve a negotiated political settlement to the Syrian civil war in agreement with United Nations' resolutions?
- What resources are necessary to achieve your plan, including the specific number of U.S. military and civilian personnel that should be deployed to Syria and the region?
Thank you for your prompt attention to these matters.
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