Skip to main content

US lawmakers make unannounced trip to northwest Syria

The three Republican lawmakers visited a school for displaced children during their short visit.

WASHINGTON — A group of US lawmakers quietly traveled to opposition-controlled northwest Syria for a brief visit with aid workers on Sunday.  

Reps. French Hill (R-Ark.), Ben Cline (R-Va.) and Scott Fitzgerald (R-Wis.) entered Syria with a Turkish military escort through the Bab al-Salam border crossing. While in the northern Aleppo countryside, they visited a school for displaced children that is run by the Syrian Emergency Task Force, the Washington-based advocacy group that organized their trip. 

It is rare for US lawmakers to visit Syria. In 2018, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) met with local officials in the northern Syrian town of Manbij. The late Arizona Sen. John McCain made a surprise visit to the Kurdish-controlled northeast in 2017 to meet with US forces stationed there. Tulsi Gabbard, a former Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a controversial visit to Damascus that same year. 

The conflict has slowed to a stalemate in the years since. Assad’s forces have reclaimed a majority of the country with the help of Russia and Iran, aside from a Kurdish-run enclave in the northeast and parts of northern Syria controlled by Turkish-backed armed groups and the al-Qaeda-derived Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.  

The rare congressional trip to opposition-held Syria comes as Assad is increasingly welcomed back into the fold by neighboring countries that cut ties with him some 12 years ago. 

After more than a decade of isolation, the Arab League in May readmitted Syria’s government, which the United States blames for the deaths of more than 300,000 civilians, the displacement of millions of Syrians and the use of chemical weapons against its own people. That same month, Saudi Arabia became the latest regional country to restore diplomatic relations with Syria. 

The Biden administration says it opposes such engagement with the Syrian government but shares the same goals of its Arab partners, including reducing Iran’s influence in Syria, curbing cross-border trafficking of the drug Captagon and creating safe conditions for refugee returns. Critics say the region has little to show for rehabilitating Assad, who appears to have granted no major concessions before his admission to the Arab League. 

Bipartisan members of Congress are aiming to keep the pressure on the Syrian regime through legislation that would expand the list of sanctionable targets under the Caesar Act, a 2019 law authorizing sanctions on those who do business with the Syrian government. 

Hill, a leading voice in Congress against normalization with Assad, sponsored legislation that required the Biden administration to develop an interagency strategy to disrupt Syria’s trade of the illegal amphetamine Captagon.

In a statement Monday, Hill said the drug was “financially fueling Assad’s reign of terror.”

“The Syrian people have endured more than a decade of war, murder, and torture,” Hill said following his trip. “It is imperative that nations across the globe, including the United States, work together to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and to counter the Assad regime.”

The lawmakers’ short visit coincided with anti-government protests over dire economic conditions that erupted earlier this month across southern Syria, mainly in the Druze-majority city of Suweida and Daraa, the birthplace of Syria’s anti-Assad uprising in 2011. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Senator John McCain was the last known US lawmaker to visit Syria. Senators Lindsey Graham and Jeanne Shaheen visited the northern Syrian town of Manbij in 2018. 

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in