Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who has charged the Obama administration with funneling money to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria, visited Damascus this week on what her office called a “fact-finding trip . . . to promote and work for peace.”
Gabbard’s office, which did not announce the trip, said that for security reasons it would release no details on the trip until her return, including whether she met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“She felt it was important to meet with a number of individuals and groups including religious leaders, humanitarian workers, refugees and government and community leaders,” Gabbard spokeswoman Emily Latimer said in a statement.
A member of the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees, Gabbard has called for the administration to abandon all assistance to armed groups and stop seeking Assad’s overthrow, saying that the effort undermines the fight against the Islamic State there.
The views coincide with those of President-elect Donald Trump, who has said the fight against the militants should take priority and has called for cooperation with Russia, Assad’s principal foreign backer.
Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, visited Trump in New York after the election. They had a “frank and positive conversation in which we discussed a variety of foreign policy issues in depth,” she told CNN.
She said Trump had requested the meeting to talk about Syria and counterterrorism.
Gabbard’s trip to Syria was first reported by Foreign Policy.
A backer of Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) during the Democratic presidential primary, Gabbard last month introduced the Stop Arming Terrorists Act, which would bar the U.S. government from providing money or other support to the Islamic State or Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the al-Qaeda group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, or to any of their allies or to any countries that support them directly or indirectly.
“If you or I gave money, weapons or support to al-Qaeda or ISIS, we would be thrown in jail,” she said in announcing the legislation. “Yet the U.S. government has been violating this law for years, quietly supporting allies and partners of al-Qaeda, ISIL . . . and other terrorist groups with money, weapons and intelligence support, in their fight to overthrow the Syrian government.”
Citing news reports detailing CIA and other support to groups fighting against Assad — some of which have formed battlefield alliances with al-Nusra — and U.S. cooperation with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and others, Gabbard compared the U.S. effort to the Reagan administration’s secret funding of Nicaraguan rebels who sought to overthrow that country’s government in the 1980s, despite a congressional ban.
Although Trump has accused Obama of “founding” the Islamic State by withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, he has not echoed Gabbard’s charge that U.S. and allied money is funding the militants. Russia and Syria have labeled as “terrorists” all of those fighting against Assad in Syria.
Although administration support for the militants has been limited, Obama has repeatedly said that the fight against the Islamic State in Syria cannot be won while Assad remains in power.