Oversight, Armed Services, and Foreign Affairs Committees Strongly Oppose President Trump’s Decision to Withdraw Troops from Syria

Oct 15, 2019
Press Release

Washington, D.C. (Oct. 15, 2019)—Today, five committee and subcommittee chairs sent a letter to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense expressing profound concerns about President Donald Trump’s immoral and reckless decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northeast Syria.  The President’s decision betrays the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who helped our nation battle the brutal Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), leaving the SDF to face an ongoing and rapidly escalating Turkish incursion.

“It is a moral imperative and a national security necessity for the United States and the international community to ensure that ISIS is not permitted to resurge and restart its brutal terrorist campaign,” wrote the Chairmen.  “We implore both of you, as our nation’s top diplomatic and military officials, to bring to bear all of the authority and gravitas of your positions to convince President Trump to immediately reverse course.  Every hour counts.”

The following chairs signed this letter: Rep. Eliot Engel, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs;  Rep. Adam Smith, Chairman of the Committee Armed Services; Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform; Rep. Ted Deutch, Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism; and Rep. Jim Langevin, Chair of the Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities.

“The withdrawal of U.S. forces from northern Syria represents a betrayal of a key U.S. partner in the campaign against ISIS.  It undermines the SDF and the stability and security they promote for millions of people still recovering from the terror inflicted by ISIS,” the Chairmen wrote.  “We are also deeply concerned that the President’s actions will exacerbate the already staggering humanitarian aftermath of the campaign to defeat ISIS, potentially contributing to the long-term ideological survival and resurgence of ISIS.”

When the SDF and Iraqi Security Forces liberated territory from ISIS, they captured thousands of ISIS fighters, including foreign terrorist fighters from around the world.  Many of these individuals have expressed a clear desire to strike targets within the region as well as in Europe and the United States if released.  Already, the SDF has said it may be unable to continue to guard these detainees if forced to defend itself against a Turkish incursion.  In addition, President Trump has made clear that he does not intend to take any responsibility for or assist with maintaining the security of the areas holding these detainees in northern Syria.  Together, these factors create an environment that could result in the release of thousands of individuals sympathetic to ISIS and fuel the terrorist group’s resurgence. 

In addition to the ISIS fighters in detention, more than a million women and children are living in camps for internally displaced persons (IDP) across Iraq and Syria, including more than 70,000 at the al-Hol IDP camp in northeast Syria.  In a report issued on September 11, 2019, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria reported that residents at the al-Hol camp are living in “deplorable and inhumane conditions,” which has resulted in the preventable deaths of at least 390 children due to malnutrition or untreated infections.  According to the Lead Inspector General for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, ISIS is already “seeking to establish safe haven in al-Hol” and attempting to recruit residents who are “potentially susceptible to ISIS messaging, coercion, and enticement.”

“Many of the women and children residing in these IDP camps are the dependents or forced spouses of Iraqi and Syrian ISIS fighters and cannot return to their local communities because of real or perceived affiliations with ISIS,” the Chairmen added.  “The vulnerability of this population, coupled with the likelihood that many of them have already been indoctrinated to ISIS’s ideology and propaganda, significantly increases the risks of further radicalization and recruitment.”

“Across the border in Iraq, human rights organizations have raised significant concerns about the treatment of ISIS detainees in the custody of the Iraqi Government. According to Human Rights Watch, by the end of 2018, Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government authorities had detained approximately 1,500 children for alleged ISIS affiliation.  Once apprehended, “security officers often interrogated and tortured them until they confessed to ISIS association, regardless of whether they were actually involved.”  In other areas of Iraq, “ISIS continues to recruit…drawing from perceived weaknesses and failures of the Iraqi government.”

Click here to read today’s letter.

116th Congress