Congresswoman Elaine Luria Demands Clarification on White House’s Syria Strategy

October 10, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Elaine Luria (VA-02) is requesting clarification from the White House about how and why the President decided to withdraw U.S. forces from the Syria-Turkey border and effectively abandoned our Kurdish partners in the process.

As Turkish forces conducted an offensive military campaign into northeastern Syria, Congresswoman Luria joined more than 50 fellow lawmakers in demanding answers on what the administration’s plans are going forward.

The lawmakers sent a letter to the White House with 10 detailed questions. They note that the U.S. has both a national security and moral responsibility to maintain a presence in northern Syria and to support our Kurdish Syrian Democratic Force allies.

“The President’s decision, seemingly out of nowhere, betrays the trust of the United States and undermines the security of our faithful Kurdish allies,” Congresswoman Luria said. “In real time, the President is degrading America’s ability to respond to resurgent ISIS actions and future regional threats in the Middle East.”

President Trump’s decision contradicts years of U.S. foreign policy and will leave the Syrian Kurds, who have been essential U.S. allies in the fight against the ISIS Caliphate, incredibly vulnerable to hostile action by the Turkish military.

The full letter can be read below.

Dear President Trump:

We write with great concern over your decision to withdraw U.S. troops in northern Syria in advance of a Turkish operation into area controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

We believe your decision to withdraw U.S. personnel from the area will have far-reaching diplomatic and national security implications: it will dramatically alter our partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), allow unilateral Turkish incursions into Syria, and jeopardize counter-ISIS efforts. Furthermore, it introduces uncertainty into U.S. foreign policy that will cause current and future allies to question the reliability of the U.S. as a partner.

On Monday October 7, in response to bipartisan criticism, you posted a statement on your Twitter account that read: “...[i]f Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey[…]” This chain of events, including the announcement and the subsequent clarification, has had a chaotic and destabilizing effect on an already fragile situation. It has thrown our troops, and our partners on the ground, into disarray.

We cannot invite further instability in this region. For one, the SDF maintains custody of over 11,000 ISIS fighters in detention facilities across northeast Syria. Moreover, the decision leaves U.S. assets and personnel in Syria -- principally, at al-Tanf -- embroiled in uncertainty.

In order to assess the decision making process that underpins your announcement, and the national security implications, we request answers to the following questions:

1. Where are the U.S. personnel in northern Syria being repositioned and how will that withdrawal affect the overall force level of U.S. personnel in Syria?

2. What additional troop withdrawals or other changes to the disposition of U.S. forces in Syria are planned within the next six months?

3. How will the U.S. ensure the protection of Kurdish civilians and our SDF allies?

4. Consistent with your tweet on October 7, what standards are you using to determine actions that are “off limits”? What authorities and means would you use to “destroy and obliterate” the economy of Turkey, a NATO ally?

5. How will the more than 11,000 ISIS prisoners held by the SDF be secured if the SDF are forced to reposition their resources for defensive purposes? If their care is to be transferred to another entity, how will the U.S. ensure an orderly transfer of custody?

6. How does the movement of U.S. personnel affect the operational security assessment of the al-Tanf garrison? How will the U.S. ensure the continued protection of the al-Tanf garrison?

7. On October 4, U.S. and Turkish forces conducted the first joint patrol of a buffer zone in northeast Syria. What information led to the decision to abandon this effort after only one patrol?

8. What assessments have been done to analyze the effect of this decision on the ongoing counter-ISIS mission?

9. What preparations has your administration made with our allies in the counter-ISIS mission in advance of this decision?

10. What assessments have been done to determine the effects of a U.S. withdrawal in northern Syria on Syrian government, Iranian, and Russian military forces operating in the region?

One of our country’s greatest strengths is the diversity of our allies and partners that are willing to fight alongside us in times of conflict. Our allies commit their lives and livelihoods to our common cause and place immense trust in our unwavering dedication as a reliable partner. This decision jeopardizes decades of trust in American solidarity and will only serve to undermine current and future alliances.

Thank you for your time and attention to this important matter. We look forward to your prompt response.

Congresswoman Elaine Luria represents Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District. She serves on the House Armed Services Committee, where she is the Vice Chair of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, where she serves as Chair of the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee.