US Congress has voted to continue its support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), allies of the US in the defeat of ISIS and promotion of stability and democratic principles in Syria. 

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2022, Section 4301, authorizes the Department of Defense (DOD) to spend $177 million in Train and Equip funding for counter-ISIS operations during the 2022 fiscal year. These funds will support the SDF’s continuous work to disrupt the activities of ISIS and protect the world from Islamic extremist terrorism.

The SDF defeated the last stronghold of the ISIS “caliphate” in al-Baghouz in early 2019, a victory that was celebrated throughout the world. SDF’s operations to root out terrorist “sleeper cells” and keep ISIS on the defensive are ongoing, resulting in regular raids and captures of ISIS operatives. Despite these efforts, ISIS operatives continue to gather funds and weapons and plan the return of their “caliphate.”

The NDAA is a bill that is approved each year by US Congress in order to continue funding on national defense spending. The bill has increasingly been used by Congress as a way to define US foreign policy strategy and spending priorities. At over 2,100 pages, and with more than 6,600 sections, the bill addresses US policy toward all countries and regions of the world, and encompasses various US domestic policy topics as well. This year, the NDAA was first passed by the US House of Representatives in September, and was not taken up by the US Senate until the second week of December. Now that it has been passed by US Congress, it will soon be signed into law by US President Joe Biden and will become effective immediately.

Section 1262 of the law requires US government offices must draft a report to Congress to define a unified “defense and diplomatic strategy” for Syria. Importantly, the relevant government offices must define “the objectives and desired end-state for the United States military presence in northeast Syria, envisioned transition timeline for security responsibilities to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and status of remaining ISIS elements.”

The timeline for withdrawal that will be drafted may spur further legislative efforts, but will not be legally binding as a result of this NDAA Section. This report will also cover US strategy related to ISIS detainees and repatriation efforts, UN relations and border access to non-government-controlled areas of Syria, diplomatic efforts, and humanitarian efforts. The report will be submitted to Congress in roughly the next three months.

A clause that was included in earlier versions of the NDAA would have required US government offices to write up a strategy to “disrupt and dismantle narcotics production and trafficking and affiliated networks linked to the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” per section 1064 of the bill approved by the US House of Representatives. The strategy would have targeted the Assad government’s production and trade of the narcotic Captagon, an illicit drug commonly used by ISIS and so-called “Syrian National Army” (SNA) militias and distributed worldwide. While this draft strategy will act as a warning to the Assad government, it would require another act of Congress or another US government entity in order to implement it. Why this clause was omitted from the final version of the NDAA, as approved by the US Senate, remains a mystery.

Other clauses of the NDAA require US government offices to generate reports on other topics related to Syria, such as the costs of troop deployments in Syria, a general security assessment of the threat of ISIS, and “a report on the estimated net worth and known sources of income of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his family members.”