The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a bill last week that requires the United States government to offer a strategy to dismantle the Captagon trade and narcotics networks of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
The bill, introduced by Congressman French Hill (AR-02) and Rep. Brendan Boyle (PA-02), seeks answers as to why a U.S. State Department-mandated report fails to address the role of the regime under Assad in narco-trafficking of Captagon, a highly addictive amphetamine.
“We were disappointed that the recent State Department report, mandated under Section 6507 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 (P.L. 117-81) on the estimated net worth and sources of income of Syrian President Bashar Assad, failed to account for the significant role of the Assad regime in Captagon trafficking in the Middle East,” wrote Rep. McCaul and U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) in a July 22 letter sent to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Former U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn said that Syria has become one of the worst narco-states in the world as it generates huge revenue from the drug trade. He predicts it will only worsen.
“I do indeed believe the Assad regime would not survive the loss of its Captagon revenues. Assad’s regime has become a narco-state,” Rayburn explained in a tweet.
According to a study by The New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a Washington-based think tank, the total value of Syria’s Captagon exports amounted to at least $5.7 billion in 2021.
Caroline Rose, head of the Power Vacuums program at the New Lines Institute, told ALL ARAB NEWS that the issue of the Captagon trade is growing in importance in the eyes of U.S. policymakers, but is not yet a top priority for the U.S. in Syria or the Middle East at large.
“As evidence continues to mount, indicating that the trade’s implications for human security, health, border integrity and the empowerment of adversaries in the region, there may be greater U.S. attention and a strategy to manage the trade.
“I believe that as smuggling operations continue and violent clashes mount between Captagon smugglers and Jordanian Armed Forces, this will be a top agenda item for Amman as it seeks to bolster its border surveillance system,” Rose said.
DRUG SMUGGLING IN THE MIDDLE EAST
The Captagon trade is a growing problem for many Arab states where large amounts of drugs are being smuggled from Syria.
In an interview published last week in the Al-Rai, Jordanian newspaper, King Abdullah II expressed concerns about the continued attempts to smuggle drugs from Syria through the borders with Jordan.
“Attempts to smuggle drugs is targeting Jordan, Arab and European countries and we’re working together to counter this illegal trade,” he said.
King Abdullah blamed the series of recent deadly clashes with drug smugglers along Jordan’s border with Syria on “militias linked to Iran.”
On Jan. 27, Jordan announced the killing of 27 drug traffickers supported by militias, seizing a large quantity of drugs.
On June 30, Saudi customs officers foiled an attempt to smuggle nearly 1.5 million Captagon pills. The pills were found hidden in a commercial construction machine received at Jeddah airport.
In 2021, Saudi authorities announced the seizure of a total of 119 million pills.
Italian, Kuwaiti and Greece customs officials seized significant amounts of Syrian-made Captagon in 2021 and 2022.
Samir al-Taqi, a Syrian-American researcher who served as the head of medical services at the Department of Health in Syria, told ALL ARAB NEWS that Syria turned from a transit country for drug trafficking to a manufacturing center that serves the Assad regime and Hezbollah’s economic and political objectives.
“Decades ago, the drugs used to be smuggled from Turkey to Syria, but with the war in Syria, many of the medicine factories in Aleppo and other cities were turned into Captagon manufacturing centers that produce commercial amounts of the drug,” he said.
Al Taqi notes that the drug’s income is used by the Assad regime, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias to serve Iran’s expansionist strategy.
“All the efforts to counter the drug trade in countries like Venezuela and Ecuador have failed over the years, and the case is similar in Syria,” Al Taqi said. “Without a coherent strategy to deal with these like-minded regimes, it’s going to be impossible to eliminate any of their malign activities.”