U.S. lawmakers push for ban on funding for al-Qaida-linked groups in Syria

U.S. lawmakers are increasing the pressure on the Trump administration and Congress to stop what they claim is American money and arms flowing to al-Qaida-linked groups in Syria.

The push, led by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), is aimed at stopping U.S. taxpayer dollars being used to provide funding, weapons, training and intelligence to support groups such as the Nusra Front.

Gabbard, with bipartisan support from other representatives, has introduced the Stop Arming Terrorists Act, which will bar the U.S government from providing direct support to named groups fighting in Syria or indirect support via other countries.

At a March 1 press conference on Capitol Hill, Gabbard said the American government, through the CIA and other means, has funded those working with or “often time under the command of terrorist groups like al-Qaida, as well as funneling that support through countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others.”

“The fact that our resources are being used to strengthen the very terrorist groups that we should be intent on defeating should alarm every member of Congress, and every American,” Gabbard said. “This madness must end. We must stop arming terrorists.”

Gabbard was joined at the press conference by two co-sponsors of the bill, Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Rep. Tom Garrett (R-VA). They were also joined by Tima Kurdi, co-founder of the Kurdi Foundation, whose sister-in-law and two nephews drowned crossing to Greece after fleeing Syria.

The Stop Arming Terrorists Act, introduced first in December, then re-introduced in the new congressional session, draws on previous congressional action barring government funds being used to support Nicaraguan Contras during the 1980s.

Gabbard noted that President Donald Trump did not directly address the issue in his speech to the joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, but she urged him and lawmakers to support her bill.

Gabbard identified several groups she maintains are allied to the Nusra Front, which she, and others, describe as al-Qaida in Syria. It renders as useless the phrase “moderate rebels,” the congresswoman said.

She added that the CIA has supported a group called Fursan al Haq, providing them with salaries, weapons and support, including surface-to-air missiles. This group is cooperating with and fighting alongside al-Nusra,

Gabbard said. Another group she identified as allied to al-Nusra, also known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, is the Levant Front.

Gabbard has weathered sometimes stinging criticism for her position on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime. She visited al-Assad in January and believes no peace agreement can be reached without his involvement.

“An elected official, a representative of the United States, went on a secret trip to meet with the brutal dictator who had murdered nearly half a million of his own people – it's reprehensible and cannot be justified,” U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), another Iraq War veteran, told The Hill following her visit.

Kinzinger added, “The actions of Congresswoman Gabbard have put our nation's reputation and foreign policy concerns at high risk and I couldn't be more disgusted.”

But Gabbard, and the other co-sponsors of the bill, argue they are motivated largely by the plight of the millions of refugees that have streamed out of Syria as the war continues. She also supports directly arming the Kurdish rebels fighting ISIS.

The legislation is also backed by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY). It has received outside support from the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), the U.S. Peace Council and Veterans for Peace.

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U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard (HI-2)

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