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US Officials Demand Comprehensive Strategy to Confront Syria’s Illicit Drug Trade

US Officials Demand Comprehensive Strategy to Confront Syria’s Illicit Drug Trade

Thursday, 18 November, 2021 - 11:15
An aerial view shows shelters at the newly-established Watan camp for internally displaced people in the village of Kafr Jales in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, on November 17, 2021. (Photo by Omar HAJ KADOUR / AFP)

Over the course of the Syrian civil war, the Syrian regime had transformed into one of the leading “narcotics institutions” worldwide.

Its production chains and smuggling networks dealt with everything from Hashish to the most profitable drug, Captagon. With narcotics becoming one of the regime’s main exports, many countries were harmed, leaving a harsh reality before US government and legislative institutions which are fighting off this harmful trade.

Captagon, produced in Syria, is a mild stimulant pill that is taken for “recreational purposes” throughout the Middle East.

According to a report issued by the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR), Captagon pills reached a market value of no less than 3.5 billion dollars during 2020.

This figure is five times the value of Syria’s legitimate exports.

Legislators in the US have called for the need to fight Syria’s harmful trade and stand against it within the policy of sanctions against the Syrian regime.

Although the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act did not include punishing or disrupting Syrian drug networks, the new 2022 National Authorization Act (NDAA) received some amendments that work towards the goal of curbing Syria’s drug trade.

The 2022 NDAA amendment, proposed by Congressman French Hill (R-AR-2), demands that the US administration develops a strategy among government agencies to disrupt and dismantle the drug trade and smuggling networks linked to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.

This amendment was supported by a majority vote - 316 votes out of 435 - in the House of Representatives and is proposed before the Senate.

According to Hill’s amendment, the Captagon trade linked to the regime in Syria constitutes a transnational security threat, and the US must develop and implement an interagency strategy to dismantle it no later than 180 days from the date of enactment of the abovementioned law.

The 2022 NDAA amendment’s proposal demands that the Department of State, Department of Treasury, Department of Defense, DEA, and other federal agencies present a joint report on a strategy to disrupt and dismantle illicit drug manufacturing in Syria. The report must be submitted to appropriate congressional committees.

The report must also present an infrastructure for executive actions against the Assad regime.

Moreover, the amendment requests using sanctions authorities to target individuals and entities linked directly or indirectly to the illicit drug infrastructure of the Assad regime. It also calls for using US-global diplomatic interactions related to the economic pressure campaign against the Assad regime to target the illicit drug infrastructure.

Although there is still a long way to go before the approval of this bill, the mobilization for its approval may make it binding in the new 2022 National Authorization Act (NDAA).

In a video published by Hill, he urges President Joe Biden’s administration to do everything in its power to stop the systematic drug smuggling operations in Syria, describing the Assad regime as a narcostate.

Hill called on his fellow representatives in Congress to support the amendment.

He explained that the amendment constitutes the first step to end the civil war that has devastated the country.

A State Department spokesperson told Asharq Al-Awsat last month that the US government is concerned about drug trafficking from Syria and is working to combat it, through multiple efforts, including “traditional law enforcement tools and capabilities.”

The spokesperson emphasized that the US government has numerous powers to identify and detect those who lead, facilitate, or partner with drug traffickers and transnational organized crime.

Caroline Rose, a political researcher at the Newlines institute for policy and research in Washington, believes that Hill’s amendment is the first of its kind that addresses the harmful effects of the Captagon trade and its relationship to the Assad regime.

She considered the amendment an important step that defines an interagency process that can review the adverse effects of the Captagon trade.

Rose told Asharq Al-Awsat that this is an attempt on behalf of the US to fill a vacuum in the maximum pressure campaign in Syria.

However, she believes that it will be difficult, as there appears to be a level of paralysis on the democratic side over US policy toward Syria.

Hill has introduced this amendment, but it has been difficult for it to gain bipartisan support, she said.

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