INT: US Congress Approves Bill against ‘Assad’s Captagon Trade’

The US Congress approved a draft resolution that lays down a US strategy to stop drug production and trafficking and dismantle networks linked to the Syrian regime and President Bashar al-Assad.

Lawmakers introduced the bill into the 2023 Department of Defense budget, passed by the Senate last Thursday, with the support of 83 senators and the opposition of 11.

The bill, introduced by Democrats and Republicans, said that “the Captagon trade linked to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria is a transnational security threat” and called on President Joe Biden’s administration to develop and implement a strategy to “deny, degrade, and dismantle Assad-linked narcotics production and trafficking networks.”

Republican Representative French Hill, who first introduced the bill last year, said: “In addition to regularly committing war crimes against his people, the Assad regime in Syria is now becoming a Narco-State.”

Hill noted that “the current epicenter of the drug trade is in territory controlled by the Assad regime,” warning that “Captagon has already reached Europe, and it is only a matter of time until it reaches our shores.”

The Representative also warned that “if we do not work with our like-minded partners to first hinder the narcotics trade and replace it with a working system of institutions that serve the Syrian people, then Assad will add the title ‘Drug Kingpin’ to his recognized global status as a leading mass murderer.”

Senior Analyst and Program Head of the Human Security Unit at the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy Caroline Rose stressed the importance of the bill being approved.

Rose told Asharq Al-Awsat that the approved bill is an important and necessary first step to address the Assad regime’s connection to the Captagon trade and the harmful impact on security in the Middle East.

She noted that after the bill’s approval, US agencies needed to collaborate and monitor Captagon trafficking and coordinate with export countries.

Project details

The bill demands presenting the required strategy to Congress for review within a period not exceeding 180 days of its approval, provided that the method includes providing support to partner countries of the region that receive large quantities of smuggled Captagon.

The lawmakers urge the administration to employ the sanctions effectively, including the Caesar Act, to target drug networks affiliated with the regime.

The strategy includes a public communication campaign to increase awareness of the extent of the connection of the Assad regime to the illicit narcotics trade, a description of the countries receiving or transiting large shipments of Captagon, and an assessment of the counter-narcotics capacity of such countries to interdict of disrupt the smuggling of the Captagon.

Lawmakers called for the strategy to include a plan for leveraging multilateral institutions and cooperation with international partners to disrupt the narcotics infrastructure of the Assad regime.

The strategy must include a list of countries that receive large shipments of Captagon, evaluating their capabilities to stop smuggling operations.

Pressuring the White House

Congress is increasing pressure on the Biden administration to address the narcotics issue.

The two top Republicans in the Congressional Foreign Relations Committees called on the White House to submit a detailed report highlighting the Syrian president’s role in trafficking, underscoring the repercussions of the issue on regional stability.

Lead Republican Mike McCaul and Senator Jim Risch sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken warning that Jordan is increasingly threatened by the flow of Captagon across its border and has had several dangerous skirmishes with drug traffickers on its border with Syria.

The letter warned that Saudi Arabia is also “under assault from flows of Syrian Captagon” and “has been forced to increase security resources for interdiction efforts.”

A group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers had called the US administration last week to include Syria as a “major illicit drug producing countries” or “major drug-transit countries.”

In a letter they wrote to Blinken, the legislators urged the ministry to assess the activities carried out by the regime in the field of drug manufacturing and trafficking to determine its category.

“In addition to its gross human rights violations and regularly committing war crimes against his own people, the Assad regime in Syria has now become a narco-state. The production and trade of the drug, Captagon, is not only a critical financial lifeline to Assad, but it cripples local populations, serves to undermine families and local communities, and finances Iran-backed groups in the region.”

The lawmakers called on the US government to do all it could to disrupt the industrial drug production in Syria.

“If we do not act, then we risk permitting the narco-state of Assad to become a permanent fixture in the region,” they concluded.

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Tags: Drug Trafficking Opioid Crisis

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