In the three years since the Assad regime’s violent response turned peaceful protests into a civil war, the Syrian conflict, which began as a secular revolt against autocracy, has increasingly attracted an element of violent extremism.
In the three years since the Assad regime’s violent response turned peaceful protests into a civil war, the Syrian conflict, which began as a secular revolt against autocracy, has increasingly attracted an element of violent extremism. “The hard reality is that the grinding Syrian civil war is now an incubator of extremism – on both sides of the sectarian divide,” said Deputy Secretary of State Robert Burns before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations:
“The conflict, and the Assad regime, have become a magnet for foreign fighters, many affiliated with terrorist groups from across the region and around the world. . . . These fighters, mostly Sunni extremists, represent a long-term threat to U.S. national security interests. From the other side, Assad has recruited thousands of foreign fighters, mostly Shia, to defend the regime, with active Iranian support and facilitation.”
This represents a tremendous threat to Syria’s future, to the entire region, and even to the international community, including the United States:
“The risk to the homeland from global jihadist groups who seek to gain long-term safe havens; the risk to the stability of our regional partners, including Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq; the risk to Israel and other partners from the rise of Iranian-backed extremist groups, especially Lebanese Hizballah fighting in Syria; and the risk to the Syrian people, whose suffering constitutes the greatest humanitarian crisis of this new century.”
To counter this growing threat, the United States is working to isolate and degrade terrorist networks in Syria, while at the same time bolstering moderate forces. We are strengthening the capacity of Syria’s closest neighbors—Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. We are also working intensively with partners in the Gulf and elsewhere to curb financing flows to extremists. And finally, we are pushing hard against Iranian financing and material support to its proxy groups in Syria and elsewhere.
“The rise of extremism in the Levant poses an acute risk for the United States, and for our regional partners,” said Deputy Secretary Burns. “It is essential that we intensify our efforts to isolate extremists in Syria, limit the flow of foreign fighters, bolster moderate opposition forces, ease the humanitarian crisis, and help key partners . . . . defend against spillover.”