Syrian Crisis: U.S. Efforts and Assistance
The United States supports the Syrian people’s aspirations for a democratic, inclusive, and unified Syria. The regime of Bashar al-Asad has violently suppressed what began as a peaceful protest movement in Dar’a in March 2011. Asad has proven through his brutal and repressive tactics that he has lost all legitimacy, and he must go as part of a genuine political transition. Asad’s continued tenure only fuels extremism and inflames tensions throughout the region. There can never be a stable, inclusive Syria under his dictatorship.
The United Nations estimates that at least 250,000 people have been killed since the unrest and violence began four years ago. More than four million people are now refugees in neighboring countries. Inside Syria, nearly 7.6 million people are internally displaced and more than 12 million people remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Despite the adoption of UN Security Council Resolutions 2139, 2165, and 2191, 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 $4 billion in humanitarian assistance – the most from any single donor. These resources support international and non-governmental organizations operating under the humanitarian principles of impartiality, independence, and neutrality to assist those in need who have been affected by the conflict both inside Syria and across the region.
The United States is also providing more than $400 million in non-lethal support to the moderate Syrian opposition. This non-lethal assistance is helping the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC), its component bodies, and affiliated opposition entities, as well as local opposition councils, and civil society groups provide essential services to their communities, extend the rule of law, document abuses, and enhance stability inside opposition controlled areas of Syria. These funds are also being used to provide non-lethal assistance to vetted units of the moderate armed opposition, to help them to defend themselves and the Syrian people against attacks by both the Asad regime and violent extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The United States continues to work vigorously to advance a political transition in Syria based on the Final Communiqué of the 30 June 2012 Action Group meeting in Geneva. The process and principles set forth in the Communiqué are 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. The Asad regime’s refusal to engage meaningfully in talks has stalled progress towards reaching a political settlement to the Syrian crisis. We continue to support the efforts of the UN Special Envoy to Syria as he seeks to build upon consultations with a wide array of Syrians, including civil society members active in peacebuilding and conflict mitigation, in support of a political transition.
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 continues to support the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria as it continues to provide critical reporting on the abuses in Syria.
The United States remains firmly committed to the complete elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program, a grave danger to the Syrian people and their neighbors. Less than one year after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2118, the international community – under the leadership of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – UN Joint Mission – destroyed the deadliest chemical weapons in the Asad regime’s declared stockpile in August 2014. 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 declared chemical agents and precursors. We are grateful for the OPCW-UN Joint Mission’s leadership and for the contributions of the entire international community in reaching this unprecedented achievement.
Although this advanced our collective goal of preventing the Asad regime from using chemical weapons against the Syrian people or Syria’s neighbors, serious questions remain with respect to unresolved omissions and discrepancies in Syria’s chemical weapons declaration to the OPCW. The United States is also deeply disturbed by reports of the repeated use of chlorine as a chemical weapon by the Asad regime, which would violate both the Chemical Weapons Convention and UN Security Council Resolutions 2118 and 2209. All of these concerns must be addressed, and we will continue to work closely with the OPCW and the international community to ensure these open issues are fully resolved and that the Asad 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. Roughly half of our more than $4 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 throughout the region.
For those affected by the crisis inside Syria and in neighboring countries, the United States is providing healthcare, shelter, food, clean water, protection – including activities to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, and educational opportunities for refugee children. 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 ongoing and egregious incidents of gender-based violence during the conflict, the United States is also providing psychological, social, and medical 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 5 million people across all 14 of the country’s governorates through the United Nations, international and non-governmental organizations, and local Syrian organizations. Where there is a risk to the safety of humanitarian workers providing aid or a risk to the beneficiaries of such assistance, U.S. humanitarian assistance is unmarked. The United States supports hundreds of field hospitals and clinics across Syria. These facilities have treated more than 2 million patients and performed more than 540,000surgeries. To meet the need for more medical staff capable of saving lives, the United States trained more than 3,400 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 more than $400 million in non-lethal transition assistance to help empower the moderate opposition to create the conditions for an eventual political transition by meeting daily needs of the Syrian people and providing essential services. 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 delivery of basic goods and essential services to liberated communities as they step in to fill voids in local governance. In addition to civil administration training programs, we have provided opposition groups with a wide array of critical equipment, including generators, ambulances, cranes, dump trucks, fire trucks, water storage units, search and rescue equipment, educational kits for schools, winterization materials, and commodity baskets for needy families in the local community.
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 gaps in local governance 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, documenting human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, and mitigating sectarian violence.
U.S. non-lethal assistance includes training and equipment to build the capacity of a network of thousands of 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.
The United States continues to assist in laying the groundwork for accountability by supporting the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre’s efforts to document violations and abuses of human rights 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.
In addition to this transition assistance to local communities, the United States has been providing direct non-lethal assistance to vetted units of the moderate armed opposition to help defend themselves and the Syrian people from attacks by the regime and violent extremist groups like ISIL. We have delivered to moderate armed elements 550,000 MREs, 4,000 medical kits, more than 374,230 food baskets, more than three tons of surgical and triage medical supplies, vehicles, heavy machinery, communications and computer equipment, generators, and other basic supplies.
Department of Defense Train and Equip Program
The United States is training and equipping appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition. This Department of Defense program is helping appropriately vetted Syrian fighters defend the Syrian people from attack by ISIL and secure territory controlled by the Syrian opposition; protect the United States, its friends and allies, and the Syrian people from threats posed by ISIL and other terrorists in Syria; and promote the conditions for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict in Syria.
Additional Support for the Syrian People
To help Syrians begin to rebuild and as a means of providing direct support to the Syrian people, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has issued several Statements of Licensing Policy establishing a favorable licensing policy under which U.S. persons may apply for specific licenses to participate in certain economic activities in Syria. The OFAC Statements of Licensing Policy focus on petroleum-related transactions for the benefit of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, and certain transactions involving Syria’s agricultural and telecommunications sectors that are for the benefit and support of the Syrian people and which allow private persons in Syria to better access the Internet, respectively. OFAC has also issued general licenses authorizing U.S. persons to send noncommercial, personal remittances to Syria and authorizing nongovernmental organizations to engage in certain activities in Syria, including humanitarian and non-commercial development projects, democracy building and education, and the preservation and protection of cultural heritage sites.
The U.S. Department of Commerce licenses 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. Additionally, food and medicine may be exported or re-exported to Syria without a license.
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.