WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement Tuesday after the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces announced they had reclaimed Raqqa, Syria, from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS):
“The capture of Raqqa from ISIS, its de facto capital in Syria, is another critical milestone in the fight against this genocidal terrorist group. I commend the commitment and performance of U.S. forces and our coalition partners, and send my sincere condolences to those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice to combat ISIS and deny it territory and safe haven in Iraq and Syria.
“I also commend the Administration for its decision to continue the strategy and programs developed by the Obama Administration that made victories against ISIS in Iraq and yesterday’s victory in Syria possible. The strategy is one of U.S. air power, equipment, training, and advice for local forces in order for them to lead the fight against ISIS, combined with consistent international pressure on ISIS finances, foreign fighter flows, and propaganda.
“The United States, its coalition partners, the Government of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and our local partners in Syria now face one of the most difficult stage of the anti-ISIS fight – providing humanitarian aid, ensuring rapid support to stabilize areas liberated from ISIS, and rebuilding communities. The United States must play a leading role in working with our partners to ensure that post-ISIS areas and communities receive appropriate support, and I will be looking to the State Department to bring the full scope of its diplomatic and development expertise to bear to address this challenge.
“In Iraq, I am concerned that the final stages of the fight to liberate the Iraqi people from ISIS will be squandered by violence around Kirkuk. I implore the leaders in Baghdad and Erbil to commit to dialogue and take all necessary actions to prevent further clashes. Iraqi and Kurdish forces, working together with U.S. support, have achieved tremendous victories over their common enemy of ISIS. Now is the time to focus on civilian protection based on a shared commitment to the rule of law and local and regional stability. It is through this lens that I will evaluate my future support for U.S. assistance in Iraq.
“The people of Syria have been victimized for far too long by the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad and the horrors of ISIS. In Raqqa, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have the opportunity to demonstrate to the world their commitment to humanitarian aid and civilian protection, stabilization assistance, and civilian-led representative governance. I applaud the focused efforts of U.S. forces working with U.S. civilians and other partners to prepare for assisting the people of Raqqa in taking steps to recover and rebuild. I am reassured by initial reports affirming the responsible conduct of the SDF and will continue to closely monitor this situation.”