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Report to Congress on Armed Conflict in Syria

The following is the Dec. 11, 2018 Congressional Research Service Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response.

The Syria conflict, now in its eighth year, remains a significant policy challenge for the United States. U.S. policy toward Syria in the past several years has prioritized counterterrorism operations against the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL/ISIS), but also has included nonlethal assistance to opposition-held communities, support for diplomatic efforts to reach a political settlement to the civil war, and the provision of humanitarian assistance in Syria and surrounding countries affected by refugee outflows. The counter-IS campaign works primarily “by, with, and through” local partners trained, equipped, and advised by the U.S. military, per a broader U.S. strategy initiated by the Obama Administration and modified by the Trump Administration. The United States also has advocated for a political track to reach a negotiated settlement between the government of Syrian President Bashar al Asad and opposition forces, within the framework of U.N.-mediated talks in Geneva. For a brief conflict summary, see Figure 2.

In November 2017, Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, stated that the United States was entering a “new phase” in its approach to Syria that would focus on “de-escalating violence overall in Syria through a combination of ceasefires and de-escalation areas.” The Administration supported de-escalation as a means of creating conditions for a national-level political dialogue among Syrians culminating in a new constitution and U.N.-supervised elections. However, since mid-2017, the Asad government has retaken most opposition-held areas of Syria, including cease-fire and de-escalation areas. This appears to have significantly reduced pressure on the regime to make concessions to the opposition, with uncertain implications for the outcome of any future political dialogue. Meanwhile, U.S.-backed forces have since retaken most other areas formerly under IS control in eastern Syria.

Following an internal policy review, Administration officials in late 2018 have described U.S. policy towards Syria as seeking (1) the enduring defeat of the Islamic State; (2) a political settlement to the Syrian civil war; and (3) the withdrawal of Iranian-commanded forces. Administration officials have also stated that the United States will not contribute to reconstruction in Asad-held areas unless a political solution is reached in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254. Questions remain about the extent to which U.S. forces might remain in Syria and specific U.S. assistance plans. The Administration has ended nonhumanitarian U.S. support to opposition-controlled northwest Syria and has obtained foreign contributions to enable the reprogramming of U.S. funds that Congress appropriated to stabilize areas liberated from the Islamic State. The FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 115-232) requires the Administration to clarify its Syria strategy and report on current programs in order to obligate FY2019 defense funds for train and equip purposes in Syria.

To date, the United States has directed more than $8.6 billion toward Syria-related humanitarian assistance, and Congress has appropriated billions more for security and stabilization initiatives in Syria and in neighboring countries. The Defense Department has not disaggregated the costs of military operations in Syria from the overall cost of the counter-IS campaign in Syria and Iraq (known as Operation Inherent Resolve, OIR), which, as of June 2018, had reached $26.2 billion. President Trump requested $15.3 billion in additional FY2019 defense funding for OIR. Congress continues to consider proposals to authorize or restrict the use of force against the Islamic State and in response to Syrian government chemical weapons attacks, but has not enacted any Syria-specific use of force authorizations.

Looking forward, Congress may consider the purpose, scope, authorization, and duration of the U.S. military presence in Syria, the U.S role in ensuring a lasting defeat for the Islamic State and other extremists, U.S. investments and approaches to postconflict stabilization, the future of Syrian refugees and U.S. partners inside Syria, and the challenges of dealing with the Iran- and Russia-aligned Asad government.

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  • On Dre

    …and one tweet later the Orange Julious renders this document obsolete.

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    America 2003 – “Invading middle-eastern countries is wrong!”

    America 2018 – “not invading middle-eastern countries is wrong!”


    • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0


      Americans: “We must get out of Yemen and give victory to Iran”

      Americans: “We must maintain the occupation of Syria to avoid victory for Iran”

      The reality is, whatever can be used as a stick to beat Trump will be used…. no matter how contradictory it looks

  • Greg Hanna

    Article does not elude to any progress or reporting, or lack of either, from either former Tillerson or current Pompeo. SO I can’t tell for sure if POTUS has a report for Congress or not. Perhaps POTUS is just bailing out.

  • Ed L

    America needs to continue to assist the Kurdish People. The biggest mistake America made was not recognizing the Kurdish Region in Northern Iraq as a nation after Hussein is government was toppled.
    Bring most of the troops home but leave a Military advisory group and SOF troops there. Plus leave all the tanks artillery vehicles and give the Kurds plenty of Ammo. The Iraqi Government in the south treats the Kurds as 2nd class citizens

    • waveshaper1

      We should be getting good at this withdrawing US forces from Kurdish turf by now. This is a reminder how convoluted the Kurdish AO can get.

      During the Iraq Kurdish Civil War (1994-1997) we had Peshmerga Slaughtering Peshmerga, the Turks/Kurds/Iranians/Saddam’s legions all slaughtering each other and the US stuck smack dab in the middle. Basically the situation in Northern Iraq was a complete mess and this finally led to the “Emergency Evacuation” of all US Forces/CIA/Diplomatic Personnel/etc in Iraqi Kurdistan.

      In late 1996 we finally said “Uncle”, pulled the plug, and conducted an “Emergency Evacuation” of all our Forces/CIA/Diplomatic Personnel in Northern Iraq and the “Emergency Evacuation” of thousands of loyal Kurdish forces/key Kurdish leadership and their family members in late 1996 (Ref; Operation Pacific Haven/Operation Quick Transit I, II, III). We abandoned the Kurds for 6 years 3 months and we didn’t go back into Iraqi Kurdistan again until 2003 (Round 2 of the Iraq War Fiasco).

  • Duane

    Amazing how fast governing-by-tweet can render years worth of thoughtful policy analysis and efforts made by our warriors, including the ultimate sacrifice, to be utterly meaningless.

    • Andy Ferguson

      How’d those “red lines” work out for O-bummer?

  • CabbageWhite

    We or (((We)))?