November 04, 2015

With Announcement of US Ground Troops to Syria, Udall, Lee, Murphy Re-introduce Bill to Block Military Arms to Syrian Rebels

Bipartisan bill would prevent US from providing funds for military activities meant to support rebels in Syria; but would not prevent humanitarian aid or crucial intelligence gathering

WASHINGTON - Following news that President Obama will station ground troops in Syria, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) re-introduced their bipartisan legislation to prohibit the administration from using any funds on military and covert activities that would escalate U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war.

The bill, which the three first introduced in June 2013, would ban the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, the National Security Agency and all other intelligence agencies from supporting directly or indirectly any military, paramilitary or covert operations in Syria. The legislation would not affect humanitarian aid or intelligence gathering efforts.

All three senators have strongly opposed deploying American troops to Syria. They also opposed the Pentagon's failed $500 million program to train and equip Syrian rebels, which the administration ended earlier this month. Udall, Lee and Murphy had written a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and CIA Director John Brennan, urging an end to the program. Udall and Murphy, both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, voted in committee against authorizing the president to arm and train Syrian rebels. And, as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Lee authored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have prohibited this program.

"The deteriorating situation in Syria is tragic and chaotic, and while we should help our allies defeat ISIL, we cannot take steps that could lead to another war in the Middle East," Udall said. "We introduced this bill two years ago to place a check on the president's unilateral decision to arm the rebels, while still preserving humanitarian aid and assistance to the Syrian people. Today, the situation is vastly worse, and we now have U.S. boots on the ground without congressional authorization. We're re-introducing the bill to prevent further escalation that pulls the United States deeper into the civil war. Not only are U.S. troops in danger from the very weapons we provided -- under the failed train and equip program -- to militant groups that are now affiliated with al Qaeda or other jihadist groups, we are on shaky legal ground under both the War Powers Act and international law. We have not been invited by Syria, as we have in Iraq, to provide support for groups opposed to ISIL. I support the president's effort to find a diplomatic and political solution, but we also need to reevaluate our strategy in the region in order to continue to degrade ISIL without risking American involvement in a complex civil war with multiple armed forces hostile to U.S. interests."

"The White House's decision to put boots on the ground is just the latest dangerous escalation of our nation's involvement in Syria," Lee said. "Until Congress grants President Obama the proper authorization to conduct military action in that country, this legislation would help limit what has increasingly become an unauthorized war."

"For nearly two years, I've raised concerns about the potential for the Syrian Opposition to coordinate with and provide American weapons to offshoots of al Qaeda - concerns that have, unfortunately, been borne out on the ground. After the administration's troop announcement last week, I'm even more concerned that our policy is putting the United States on a potentially dangerous downward slope into a civil war with no end in sight," said Murphy. "Our mission must be to degrade ISIL through airstrikes and special operations, stand up an Iraqi fighting force, and step up our response to the humanitarian crisis. We cannot allow ourselves to get bogged down in another shortsighted ground war that risks arming our enemies."

The text of the bill follows:

Title: To restrict funds related to escalating United States military involvement in Syria.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the "Protecting Americans from the Proliferation of Weapons to Terrorists Act of 2015".

SEC. 2. PROHIBITION ON FUNDS TO ESCALATE UNITED STATES MILITARY INVOLVEMENT IN SYRIA.

(a) In General.-Except as provided under subsection (b), no funds made available to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, the National Security Council, the National Security Agency, or any other agency or entity of the United States involved in intelligence activities may be obligated or expended for the purpose of, or in a manner which would have the effect of, supporting, directly or indirectly, military or paramilitary operations in Syria by any nation, group, organization, movement, or individual.

(b) Exceptions.-
(1) NON-LETHAL HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE.-The prohibition under subsection (a) does not apply to funds obligated for non-lethal humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people provided directly by the United States Government, through nongovernmental organizations and contractors, or through foreign governments.
(2) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION REGARDING INTELLIGENCE.-Nothing in this Act shall be construed as a restriction on intelligence gathering or counterintelligence efforts that are ongoing or that the President determines necessary to support the national security interests of the United States in Syria.

(c) Duration of Prohibition.-The prohibition under subsection (a) shall cease to apply only if a joint resolution approving assistance for military or paramilitary operations in Syria is enacted.

(d) Quarterly Reports.-Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, and every 90 days thereafter, the Secretary of State shall submit to Congress a report on assistance provided to groups, organizations, movements, and individuals in Syria.

(e) Non-Lethal Humanitarian Assistance Defined.-In this Act, the term "non-lethal humanitarian assistance" means humanitarian assistance that is not weapons, ammunition, or other equipment or material that is designed to inflict serious bodily harm or death.