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Booker, Kaine, Cardin Question Trump’s Decision to Freeze Funds for Stabilization Efforts in Syria

Letter comes on heels of President’s withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal, which further destabilizes the region

May 10, 2018
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WASHINGTON, D.C.  – U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Ben Cardin (D-MD), members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today questioned President Trump on his recent decision to freeze $200 million in funding for stabilization efforts in Syria. In a letter to the President, the Senators warned that the decision risked undermining the gains the U.S. has made against ISIS in the region. The letter comes on the heels of the President’s decision earlier this week to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal, which will further destabilize the region.

“Providing sufficient funding to the stabilization effort is critical to ensuring that ISIS does not regain its foothold in areas that coalition and Syrian partner forces have made great sacrifices to liberate,” the Senators wrote in the letter, adding that the funding freeze would also endanger the thousands of American troops currently deployed in Syria and Iraq.

“Additionally, the absence of U.S. leadership to help stabilize areas cleared of ISIS control could result in others – including Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime – filling the vacuum to the detriment of our national security objectives in Syria and the region,” the Senators continued.

The Senators requested an analysis of what impact the funding freeze had on any planned or ongoing stabilization programs and how the funding freeze might bolster Iranian and Russian influence in Syria. They also asked for greater detail on how the decision was made, and whether the State Department, the Defense Department, or USAID were consulted.

Full text of the letter is below.

May 10, 2018

President Donald J. Trump

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Trump:

We write with great concern about your recent decision to freeze $200 million in funding for stabilization efforts in Syria.  Although it is reasonable to regularly evaluate U.S. funding and ensure that our allies also contribute their fair share, this abrupt decision risks undermining the gains we have made against ISIS and prolonging the conflict.  Providing sufficient funding to the stabilization effort is critical to ensuring that ISIS does not regain its foothold in areas that coalition and Syrian partner forces have made great sacrifices to liberate.

Stabilizing gains against ISIS through targeted programs to remove mines and explosive devices, deploy electricity, and provide basic services is  essential to getting displaced Syrians back to their homes and to dealing the final blow to ISIS. The military recognizes the critical role that these programs play.  U.S. Central Command Commander General Joseph Votel said during a January visit to Raqqa that stabilizing areas formerly controlled by ISIS, “is also about removing the conditions that lead to things like insurgency, that lead to instability. So, from a military standpoint we’re very keen to make sure that the follow-through in our operations is completed as effectively as the military operation.”

Freezing this funding also puts our approximately 2,000 troops in Syria and 8,000 troops in Iraq at greater risk.  If ISIS regains strength in Syria, its reach will quickly spread across the porous Syria/Iraq border. Additionally, the absence of U.S. leadership to help stabilize areas cleared of ISIS control could result in others – including Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime – filling the vacuum to the detriment of our national security objectives in Syria and the region.

The $200 million that Congress appropriated to the State Department for stabilization purposes should be restored as soon as possible.  Should this funding remain on hold, we request an impact analysis of the funding freeze on any ongoing and planned stabilization programs and its effect on achieving the goals of the counter-ISIS strategy.  We further request your analysis of how this funding freeze may bolster Iranian and Russian influence in Syria. We also request details on the process you undertook to elicit input from the State Department, USAID, and the Department of Defense before you froze stabilization funding.  

This decision risks leaving the fight against ISIS unfinished.  We strongly encourage you to ensure that stabilization efforts in Syria are not hampered and that appropriated funds be used as Congress intended.

Sincerely,       

__________________________    _________________________    _________________________

Cory A. Booker                          Tim Kaine                                 Benjamin L. Cardin

United States Senator                 United States Senator               United States Senator