The United States supports the Syrian people’s aspirations for a Syrian-led transition to a democratic, inclusive, and unified Syria. The United Nations estimates that more than 70,000 Syrians have been killed in the nearly two years since unrest and violence began. Since the beginning of 2013, the number of Syrians seeking refuge in neighboring countries has risen by nearly 40 percent. More than 950,000 Syrians are now registered as refugees or are awaiting registration in neighboring countries while, inside Syria, an additional 2.5 million people remain internally displaced and 4 million people are in need of assistance. Bashar al-Assad has sacrificed all legitimacy in a vicious effort to cling to power.
U.S. assistance includes vigorous diplomatic support of the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC), nearly $385 million in humanitarian assistance to help those affected by the conflict, and approximately $115 million in nonlethal support to the Syrian opposition, including for the SOC to assist local opposition councils and civil society to provide essential services and to extend the rule of law and enhance stability inside liberated areas of Syria; and soon we will be providing food rations and medical kits to both the SOC and the opposition’s Supreme Military Council (SMC) to feed the hungry and tend to the sick and wounded.
The United States continues to support the Syrian people as the SOC sets a course toward the peaceful, democratic, inclusive future that the people of Syria deserve. We are working with other nations and with international organizations to further isolate the regime, both politically and through comprehensive sanctions, and to support the Syrian people’s calls for President Assad to step down. We and our international partners actively supported the efforts of the Syrian people to launch the SOC in Doha in November 2012 and, in December 2012, President Obama recognized the Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The Coalition is developing formal structures and plans for a democratic political transition that protects the rights, dignity, and aspirations of all Syrians.
At a meeting with the SOC and international partners in Rome on February 28, Secretary of State Kerry announced that the United States would contribute approximately $60 million in additional nonlethal support to the Coalition, bringing our total nonlethal assistance to the civilian opposition to approximately $115 million. The Secretary also announced the decision to provide nonlethal support to the Syrian opposition, including the Supreme Military Council, in the form of medical kits and food rations for the hungry, sick, and wounded.
On February 2, Vice President Biden met with SOC President al-Khatib in Munich where he praised al-Khatib’s personal courage and leadership for expressing his willingness to engage in dialogue to accelerate an end to the conflict. The Vice President also encouraged the Coalition to continue efforts to maintain unity among its leadership and draw together the broad diversity of Syrian communities, while isolating extremists. In Paris on January 28, more than 50 countries supporting the Syrian opposition gathered to reaffirm their commitment to provide support to the SOC and agreed on the urgent need to increase the delivery of humanitarian assistance, including for areas outside of the regime’s control.
The United States, along with the international community, is tirelessly working to provide humanitarian aid to all civilians affected by the brutal conflict in Syria. In January 2013, President Obama announced an additional $155 million in humanitarian assistance, bringing the total U.S. humanitarian assistance for those affected by the violence in Syria to nearly $385 million, of which more than $215 million goes to address critical needs inside Syria. Our assistance is providing emergency medical care and medical supplies (including immunizations for children), food, clean water, and winterization supplies like blankets and heaters for those affected by the crisis, both inside Syria and those seeking refuge in other countries. It also supports the psycho-social rehabilitation of Syrian refugees who are victims of torture and war and programs to prevent sexual and gender-based violence.
U.S. humanitarian aid is being provided throughout all 14 governorates of Syria on the basis of need. It is often not branded as U.S. assistance in order to ensure the safety of aid recipients and humanitarian aid providers as well as to ensure that aid distribution is not thwarted en route. The United States is committed to using all channels to reach affected populations throughout the country and is working through the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations, and community-based partners, as well as with the SOC’s Assistance Coordination Unit. The United States is also working closely with host governments in the region who have generously opened their borders to refugees from Syria. For more details on the United States humanitarian response to the Syria crisis and what U.S. humanitarian assistance has provided, please visit www.usaid.gov/crisis/syria.
Nonlethal Assistance to the Opposition to Support Transition
As Secretary Kerry underscored in Rome on February 28, the United States is acting in partnership with the international community to assist the SOC. The United States announced plans to provide an additional $60 million to support the Coalition as it seeks to strengthen Syrian communities living in liberated areas without the support of the central government. The new assistance will enable the Coalition to help local councils and communities expand the delivery of basic goods and essential services and fulfill administrative functions, including sanitation and educational services. Some of this assistance will also be used to extend the rule of law and enhance stability. Technical advisors will work with Coalition staff to support the implementation of this assistance and assist in compliance with U.S. rules and regulations on the use of foreign assistance. The February 28 announcement brings our total assistance to the civilian opposition to approximately $115 million.
In addition to this new $60 million in nonlethal assistance to the opposition, the United States is also planning to provide halal food rations and medical kits to the Syrian opposition, including the Supreme Military Council, to feed the hungry and tend to the sick and wounded.
Prior to the February 28 announcement, the United States had already committed over $50 million in nonlethal support directly to the civilian Syrian opposition, including emergent local and national democratic networks, and civic groups. This assistance includes training and equipment to build the capacity of a nationwide network of ethnically and religiously diverse civilian activists to link Syrian citizens with the SOC and local coordinating councils. This support enhances the information security of Syrian activists, human rights organizations, and media outlets and empowers women leaders to play a more active role in transition planning. Activities sponsored by these funds enable local councils and grassroots organizations to respond to the needs of their communities and promotes constructive participation in the country’s political transition.
Over 4,000 major pieces of equipment, including communications and computer equipment, as well as generators and medical supplies, have been provided, mostly to Damascus, Aleppo, and other areas, to support civilian Syrian opposition groups, civil society activists, and citizen journalists.
Support to civil society groups and local councils includes efforts to train, equip, and build the capacity of nearly 1,500 grassroots activists, including women and youth, from over 100 opposition councils and organizations from around the country; develop groups’ abilities to mobilize citizens, share information, provide community services, and undertake civic functions; support interreligious and communal dialogues and encourage citizen participation in shaping the Syrian transition; and support human rights documentation and transitional justice workshops while laying the foundation for future accountability efforts.
Support to independent media projects includes assistance to community radio stations providing information for refugees about available services; training for networks of citizen journalists, bloggers, and cyber-activists to support their documentation, packaging, and dissemination of information on developments in Syria; and technical assistance and equipment to enhance the information and communications security of Syrian activists within Syria.
Assistance in support of democratic transition planning includes efforts to link civilian opposition elements inside Syria with global supporters; support for the independent Syria Justice and Accountability Center to document human rights abuses and coordinate transitional justice and accountability efforts; technical assistance to emerging civil society leaders; and facilitating participation by the business community in the transition processes.