The Syrian Crisis: U.S. Assistance and Support for the Transition
The United States supports the Syrian people’s struggle for a democratic, inclusive, and unified Syria, which began with peaceful protests in Dar’a in March 2011. The regime of Bashar al-Asad violently suppressed those expressions of popular dissent. He has proven through his brutal and repressive tactics that he cannot lead Syria’s transition. His continued tenure only fuels extremism and inflames tensions throughout the region.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that more than 146,000 people have been killed since the unrest and violence began three years ago. The number of civilians fleeing Syria and seeking refuge in neighboring countries has increased sharply as violence has escalated. More than 2.5 million people affected by the conflict are now refugees in neighboring countries while, inside Syria, an additional 6.5 million people are displaced and 9.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. The UN Security Council has condemned the Asad regime’s denial of humanitarian access to civilians in need and urged immediate steps to facilitate the expansion of humanitarian relief operations throughout the country, yet the regime has continued to obstruct humanitarian access.
The United States has contributed more than $1.7 billion in humanitarian assistance to respond to the Syrian crisis, the largest of any single donor. These resources support international and non-governmental organizations assisting those affected by the conflict both inside Syria and across the region.
The United States is also providing more than $260 million in direct non-lethal support to the moderate Syrian opposition. This non-lethal assistance is helping the Syrian Coalition, local opposition councils, and civil society groups provide essential services to their communities, extend the rule of law, and enhance stability inside liberated areas of Syria. These funds are also being used to provide non-lethal assistance to moderate factions of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) of the Free Syrian Army, which is contesting extremist groups as well as struggling against the Asad regime on behalf of the Syrian people.
Efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the Syria crisis are based on the Final Communiqué of the 30 June 2012 Action Group meeting in Geneva. The process set forth by the Communiqué is supported by the United States and the broad partnership of nations known as the "London 11" that are pressing for a negotiated political solution to the Syria conflict. The United States has been working vigorously to advance Syria’s transition through the "Geneva II" international conference based on the Communique: the establishment of a transitional governing body formed by mutual consent, exercising full executive powers over all government institutions. The transitional governing body will also be charged with reviewing the constitutional order and legal system and preparing for and conducting free and fair elections. Yet through two rounds of U.N.-sponsored negotiations in Geneva, the Asad regime’s refusal to engage in negotiations has stalled progress.
Simultaneous diplomatic efforts are helping coordinate the provision of assistance with other partners and allies in support of the Syrian opposition. Diplomatic efforts also seek to further isolate the regime, both politically and through comprehensive sanctions; to support the Syrian people’s calls for an end of Asad’s rule; and to reinforce the Syrian opposition’s vision of a democratic post-Asad Syria.
The United States remains firmly committed to the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, a grave danger to the Syrian people and their neighbors. The process of removing chemical weapons from Syria for destruction has begun, as outlined in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118. The United States has contributed tens of millions of dollars in assistance to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – UN Joint Mission to safely package and remove chemical weapons materials from Syria for elimination by the international community. U.S. assistance includes outfitting a U.S. ship with proven hydrolysis technology to neutralize safely at sea the most dangerous of Syria’s chemical agents and precursors. For more information, please visit: //2009-2017.state.gov/t/217199.htm.
The United States and the international community are working tirelessly to provide humanitarian assistance to those affected by the brutal conflict in Syria. About half of the more than $1.7 billion in U.S.-provided humanitarian assistance is being distributed to organizations working inside Syria; the balance is going to assist refugees and to the communities that host them.
The United States is providing emergency medical care and supplies, shelter, food, clean water, relief supplies, access to education and protection – including activities to prevent and respond to gender-based violence – to those affected by the crisis inside Syria and in neighboring countries. U.S. assistance supports the activities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Program (WFP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and other organizations, in Syria and neighboring countries.
In response to growing incidents of gender-based violence during the conflict, the United States is also providing psycho-social support for women and children from Syria through women’s health centers, mobile clinics, and outreach workers.
Within Syria, U.S. humanitarian assistance is reaching more than 4.2 million people across all 14 of the country’s governorates through the United Nations, international and non-governmental organizations, and local Syrian organizations, as well as in coordination with the Syrian Coalition’s Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU). To ensure the safety of recipients and humanitarian workers and to facilitate passage while en route to beneficiaries, U.S. humanitarian assistance is often not branded or marked. The United States supports approximately 260 field hospitals and clinics across Syria. These facilities have treated more than 1.5 million patients and performed more than 252,806 surgeries. To meet the need for more medical staff capable of saving lives, the United States trained more than 2,020 health care providers inside Syria.
The United States continues to work closely with governments in the region hosting refugees fleeing Syria. For more details on the U.S. humanitarian response to the Syria crisis and what U.S. humanitarian assistance is being provided, please visit www.usaid.gov/crisis/syria.
Non-lethal Transition Assistance to the Syrian Opposition
The United States is working in partnership with the international community to support the Syrian opposition and is providing more than $260 million in non-lethal transition assistance to help the moderate opposition meet daily needs, provide essential services, and support a transition. These funds include a $15 million contribution to the multi-donor Syria Recovery Trust Fund, designed to help with Syria’s recovery effort in liberated areas and reconstruction and economic needs after the formation of a transitional governing body.
Non-lethal assistance is being provided to a range of civilian opposition activists, including local councils, civil society organizations and the Syria Coalition (SOC) to bolster their institutional capacity, create linkages among opposition groups inside and outside Syria, and help counter extremism. These efforts enable the Coalition to deliver basic goods and essential services to liberated communities. For example, in close collaboration with the Coalition’s ACU, U.S. non-lethal assistance is being used to procure equipment and critical supplies for rapid distribution to communities inside Syria. This equipment includes generators, ambulances, cranes, dump trucks, fire trucks and water storage units. Other critical supplies provided through this assistance include educational kits for schools, winterization materials and commodity baskets for needy families. These efforts help the national-level opposition groups provide for the needs of local communities.
Through a series of small cash and in-kind grants, the United States is helping to strengthen grassroots organizations and local administrative bodies– a foundation of democratic governance – as they step in to fill the void left by the regime and provide basic services, including emergency power, sanitation, water, and educational services to their communities. Some of this assistance is being directed to maintain public safety, extend the rule of law, and enhance the provision of justice to improve local stability and prevent sectarian violence.
U.S. non-lethal assistance includes training and equipment to build the capacity of a network of over 4,000 grassroots activists, including women and youth, from more than 300 opposition councils and organizations from around the country to link Syrian citizens with the Syrian opposition and local councils. This support enhances the linkages between Syrian activists, human rights organizations, and independent media outlets and empowers women leaders to play a more active role in transition planning.
Support to independent media includes assistance to community radio and television stations providing news and cultural information, mentoring to broadcast professionals inside Syria; training for networks of citizen journalists, bloggers, and cyber-activists to support their documentation 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. U.S. technical and financial assistance to the ACU’s Media Unit is supporting the Coalition’s outreach to Syrians through the internet, local, independent radio stations and satellite television.
In addition to this transition assistance, the United States has been increasing direct non-lethal assistance to the SMC since the spring of 2013 along supply lines periodically contested by the regime or extremist fighters. We have provided 552,000 MREs, 1,500 medical kits, vehicles, communications equipment, generators, and over three tons of surgical and triage medical supplies to moderate SMC elements.
The United States continues to assist in laying the groundwork for accountability by supporting the Syria Justice and Accountability Center’s efforts to document violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law committed by all sides of the conflict, and by bolstering the capacity of civil society organizations to build the foundations for lasting peace. The United States also works at the grassroots levels with groups and individuals across a broad spectrum of Syria’s diverse religious and ethnic communities to empower women, religious leaders, youth, and civil society to advocate for their communities, build trust and tolerance, and mitigate conflict. This includes the "No Lost Generation" campaign to address the immediate and long-term impacts of the Syria crisis on a generation of children and youth in Syria and the Near East region.
Additional Support for the Syrian People
To help Syrians begin to rebuild, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a Statement of Licensing Policy inviting U.S. persons to apply for specific licenses to participate in certain economic activities in Syria. The OFAC Statement focused on applications to engage in oil-related transactions that benefit the Syrian Coalition, or its supporters, and transactions involving Syria’s agricultural and telecommunications sectors. OFAC also amended Syria General License 11 to authorize the exportation of services and funds transfers in support of not-for-profit activities to preserve and protect cultural heritage sites in Syria.
The U.S. Department of Commerce has waived certain restrictions, accepting license applications for the export and re-export of certain commodities, software, and technology for the benefit of the Syrian people, including but not limited to: water supply and sanitation; agricultural production and food processing; power generation; oil and gas production; construction and engineering; transportation; and educational infrastructure.
The United States continues to engage Syrians directly, offering academic advising to young people hoping to study in the United States and opportunities to participate in State Department exchanges and other outreach programs. The State Department is also working with a range of Syrian, American, and international partners to protect Syria’s rich cultural heritage. For more information, please visit: http://icom.museum/resources/red-lists-database/red-list/syria/.
The State Department maintains an active dialogue to coordinate policy and assistance for Syria with a broad cross-section of Syrian opposition groups, including with the Syrian Coalition. The American people, including Syrian-Americans, have contributed generously and have organized to provide assistance to Syrians in need.
The most effective way people can assist relief efforts is by making cash contributions to humanitarian organizations that are conducting relief operations. A list of humanitarian organizations that are accepting cash donations to help those in need in Syria and the region can be found at www.cidi.org.