Please know that I strongly support U.S. efforts to provide humanitarian relief to civilians affected by the crises in Syria and Iraq.
Since unrest began in Syria in March 2011, an estimated 12.2 million people are need of humanitarian assistance, including 7.6 million internally displaced persons and nearly 4 million refugees in neighboring countries.
You may be interested to know that the United States has provided more than $4.5 billion in humanitarian assistance to those affected by the conflict in Syria. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, this funding supports emergency health, water, food, shelter, sanitation, and hygiene assistance, as well as protection for conflict-affected populations throughout Syria and in neighboring countries.
Additionally, since 2014, the United States has provided approximately $534 million in humanitarian assistance to those affected by the violence in Iraq.
It is estimated that 3.18 million people are internally displaced in Iraq, and that there are nearly 370,000 Iraqi refugees in the surrounding region.
As you may know, since early June 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has seized large swaths of territory and massacred thousands of Iraqi and Syrian soldiers and civilians alike.
This terrorist organization, with an estimated fighting force of 30,000 fighters, has financed itself through kidnappings, extortion, bank robbery, oil proceeds, and other criminal activity.
Its consolidation of territory in both countries, apparently with the goal of reconstituting an Islamic caliphate, has led to the beheading of Western journalists and aid workers, the seizure of military-grade weaponry, the displacement of millions of civilians, and genocidal levels of killing of Iraqi and Syrian religious and ethnic minorities.
I recognize that many Americans have concerns about U.S. involvement in Syria and Iraq—especially regarding the possibility of sending U.S. military service members back into Iraq or into Syria.
While I understand and share those concerns, I also believe that we must confront ISIL in Iraq and Syria before it further consolidates its power in the heart of the Middle East.
I therefore strongly supported President Obama’s decision to directly intervene in Iraq and Syria to protect U.S. interests and to form a united international coalition—including with Arab countries—to ultimately destroy ISIL.
I recognize apprehensions about Russian military engagement in Syria.
Furthermore, I understand that moderate opposition groups in Western Syria and Kurdish fighters in the north are in need of resources and training.
I believe there needs to be a political strategy to address the root causes of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
There is no doubt that political reconciliation between Iraq and Syria’s ethnic and religious communities is needed.
To that end, I am pleased to see that Iraq’s leaders have taken action to form a unity government which I hope will prove capable of governing on behalf of all Iraqis and provide a space for genuine Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish participation.
I am also pleased to learn that on November 14, 2015, during a dialogue held in Vienna, the International Syria Support Group, which consists of the Arab League, China, Egypt, the European Union, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and the United States, agreed to take steps to ensure a Syrian-led political transition and a nationwide ceasefire.
Please know that as the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I continue to closely follow events in Syria and Iraq, and I will keep your thoughts in mind as the Senate discusses U.S. assistance and policy toward both nations.