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. The regime of Bashar al-Assad violently suppressed what began as a peaceful protest movement in Dar’a in March 2011, and Assad has proven through his brutal and repressive tactics that he has lost all legitimacy. His continued tenure only fuels extremism and inflames tensions throughout the region.
The United Nations estimates that more than 191,000 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 3 million people are now refugees in neighboring countries while, inside Syria, nearly 6.5 million people are displaced and nearly 11 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Despite the improved UN access following adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2165, the UN and others in the humanitarian community continue to face significant challenges reaching many people in need in Syria. Obstruction and ongoing violence by the regime, opposition, and terrorist groups are continuing to hinder the delivery of urgent, life-saving assistance to those in need inside Syria. All parties to the conflict in Syria must allow safe, unfettered access to all in need.
To help those affected by the crisis in Syria, the United States has contributed more than $2.9 billion in humanitarian assistance – the most from 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 $330 million in non-lethal support to the moderate Syrian opposition. This non-lethal assistance is helping the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC), 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 vetted, moderate opposition units, which are fighting both the Assad regime and violent extremist groups, notably the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), on behalf of the Syrian people.
The United States continues to work vigorously to advance a political transition in Syria. Efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the Syrian 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," which are pressing for a negotiated political solution to the Syria conflict. After two rounds of UN-sponsored negotiations in Geneva, the Assad regime’s refusal to engage meaningfully in talks stalled progress towards reaching a political settlement to the Syrian crisis.
Simultaneous diplomatic efforts are helping coordinate the provision of assistance with other partners and allies in support of the moderate Syrian opposition. Diplomatic efforts also seek to isolate the regime further, both politically and economically through comprehensive sanctions; to support the Syrian people’s calls for an end to the conflict; and to reinforce the moderate Syrian opposition’s ability to act as a counterweight to the regime and ISIL.
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. Since September 2013, as outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 2118, the international community cooperated to remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles. Less than one year later, in August 2014, under the leadership of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – UN Joint Mission, the deadliest chemical weapons in the Assad regime’s declared stockpile have been destroyed. The United States contributed tens of millions of dollars in assistance to the OPCW–UN Joint Mission, including outfitting a U.S. ship with hydrolysis technology to neutralize safely at sea the most dangerous of Syria’s chemical agents and precursors. We are grateful for the OPCW-UN Joint Mission’s leadership and for the contributions of the entire international coalition in reaching this unprecedented achievement. Although this advances our collective goal to ensure that the Assad regime cannot use its declared chemical arsenal against the Syrian people or Syria’s neighbors, serious questions remain with respect to the omissions and discrepancies in Syria’s declaration to the OPCW and reports of continued use of chlorine as a weapon by the Assad regime. These concerns must be addressed, and we will work closely with the OPCW and the international community to ensure these open issues are fully resolved and that the Assad regime is held accountable for any failure to meet its obligations.
The United States and the international community are working tirelessly to provide humanitarian assistance to those affected by the brutal conflict in Syria. One-half of our $2.9 billion in humanitarian assistance is being distributed to organizations working inside Syria; the balance is going to assist refugees and to the communities that host them.
For those affected by the crisis inside Syria and in neighboring countries, the United States is providing medical care and supplies, shelter, childhood immunizations, food, clean water, relief supplies, and access to education and protection – including activities to prevent and respond to gender-based violence . U.S. assistance supports the activities of UN agencies – including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Program (WFP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) – and numerous non-governmental organizations, in Syria and neighboring countries.
In response to growing incidents of gender-based violence during the conflict, the United States is also providing psychological and 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 4.5 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 Opposition Coalition’s Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU) and Interim Government. 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 nearly 1.9 million patients and performed more than 358,240 surgeries. To meet the need for more medical staff capable of saving lives, the United States trained nearly 3,000 health care providers and community health workers inside Syria.
The United States continues to work closely with countries in the region hosting refugees fleeing Syria, supporting communities that have generously opened their schools, hospitals, and homes. 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 $330 million in non-lethal transition assistance to help the moderate opposition meet daily needs, provide essential services, and support a transition. U.S. support includes $15 million provided to the multi-donor Syria Recovery Trust Fund, designed to help with Syria’s recovery effort in areas controlled by the moderate opposition, as well as its reconstruction and economic needs after the formation of a transitional governing body.
Non-lethal assistance is being provided to a range of civilian opposition groups, including local councils, civil society organizations, and SOC-affiliated entities to bolster their institutional capacity, create linkages among opposition groups inside and outside Syria, and help counter violent extremism. These efforts enable the Coalition, including its interim governance structures, to deliver basic goods and essential services to liberated communities as they step in to fill the void left by the regime. In addition to civil administration training programs, these entities are provided with a wide array of critical equipment, including generators, ambulances, cranes, dump trucks, fire trucks, water storage units, search and rescue equipment, education kits for schools, winterization materials, and commodity baskets for needy families.
The United States is also 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. U.S. assistance also is being directed to maintaining public safety, extending rule of law and mitigating sectarian violence.
U.S. non-lethal assistance includes training and equipment to build the capacity of a network of more than 3,000 grassroots activists, including women and youth, from more than 400 opposition councils and organizations from around the country to link Syrian citizens with the national- and local-level Syrian opposition. 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 both television and radio stations; mentoring from Arab media experts 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 is also supporting the Coalition’s outreach to Syrians through the internet, local, independent radio stations, and satellite television.
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 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.
In addition to this transition assistance to local communities, the United States has been providing direct non-lethal assistance to the moderate, armed opposition. We have delivered to moderate armed elements 550,000 MREs, 4,500 medical kits, more than117,000 food baskets, more than three tons of surgical and triage medical supplies, vehicles, heavy machinery, communications and computer equipment, generators, and other basic supplies.
Train and Equip Program
The United States will train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition. The program, through the Department of Defense, will help moderate Syrian fighters defend the Syrian people from attacks by ISIL and the Syrian regime; stabilize areas under opposition control; and empower a subset of the trainees to go on the offensive against ISIL.
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 Opposition 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.
To support educational opportunities for Syrians during the conflict, the United States continues to engage Syrians directly, offering academic advice 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 contributing to the Syrian Scholar Rescue program, which supports higher education in Syria by offering outstanding professors, researchers, and intellectuals fellowship grants and temporary academic appointments at partnering academic institutions. Additionally, the State Department remains focused on supporting the preservation of Syria’s rich cultural heritage and continues to work with a range of Syrian, American, and international partners to protect Syrian antiquities. For more information, please visit: http://damascus.usembassy.gov/resources/cultural-events.html
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 Opposition 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.