WASHINGTON – Over two dozen Members of Congress, led by Reps. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Ted Yoho (R-FL), issued a letter to President Obama urging him to maintain his policy of refusing to transfer shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles (“MANPADS”) to Syrian combatants.
The letter encourages the Obama Administration to uphold the policy towards Syrian combatants that have been vetted and trained by the U.S. Department of Defense or the Central Intelligence Agency.
MANPADS can be fired at aircrafts by individuals on the ground and can be easily hidden or transported in the trunk of a car. U.S. and Israeli officials have expressed concern that they could be used by terrorists to bring down commercial airliners, including in Israel. Former CIA director David Petraeus said last year that the possibility of a civilian airliner being shot down by a MANPAD was “always our worst nightmare.” According to the Arms Control Association, thirty fatal MANPAD attacks have resulted in almost 1,000 civilian deaths since the first known use against a civilian aircraft in 1978.
In late 2014, the headquarters of the CIA-backed milita Harakat Hazm— one of the biggest recipients of U.S. arms including powerful TOW anti-armor missiles —was overrun by Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s primary Syrian affiliate. Harakat Hazm fled its positions, leaving behind many of their weapons that were seized by al-Nusra.
In the 113th Congress, Reps. Conyers and Yoho proposed a collaborative amendment to H.R. 4870, the “Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2015” that would have prevented the transfer of MANPADs to any party in the Syrian Civil War. The House of Representatives approved the amendment unanimously in June 2014.
In addition to Reps. Conyers and Yoho, the letter was signed by Reps. Peter Welch (D-VT), Steven Cohen (D-TN), John Garamendi (D-CA), Water Jones (R-NC), Rick Nolan (D-MN), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Alan Grayson (D-FL), Bill Posey (R-FL), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Joseph Pitts (R-PA), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Brian Babin (R-TX), Tom Rooney (R-FL), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Randy Weber (R-TX), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Curt Clawson (R-FL).