Secretary of State John Kerry announced $60 million in new U.S. aid for the Syrian opposition late last month, but the State Department has refused to detail how that money will be spent. The Cable has obtained the breakdown of the newly pledged funds.
Kerry announced the additional $60 million in aid at a Feb. 28 "Friends of Syria" meeting in Rome, a meeting the Syrian opposition coalition initially refused to attend out of frustration with what it perceives as a lack of assistance from the international community. In total, the United States has now pledged $115 million in support of the Syrian opposition.
In his announcement, Kerry said the extra aid was designed to "strengthen the organizational capacity of the Syrian Opposition Coalition."
"It will help war-torn communities be able to survive devastating situations with respect to sanitation, food delivery, medical care," he said. "It will speed the delivery of basic goods and services including security and education. It will help to initiate discussions with those who are providing for public order and for justice as the transition itself unfolds. And we will help the SNC, Free Syrian Army, and the civilian opposition to feed those in need and tend to the sick and the wounded."
At Wednesday's State Department press briefing, reporters demanded to know exactly how that money will be spent. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman and Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford briefed lawmakers on the plan, but outgoing State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declined to provide any details.
"An actual breakdown of how we'll budget it? I'm not sure we've done that yet," Nuland said.
In fact, the State Department had already provided Congress with a detailed breakdown, obtained by The Cable, of how it intends to spend the $60 million. Here it is:
- $10 million for Middle East Partnership Initiative programming to support local councils inside Syria.
- $30 million to create a SOC Support Program within the USAID Office of Transition Initiatives. The OTI Syria program was established with a $5 million reprogramming in late 2012.
- $7 million for USAID "repair and maintenance" programs to improve services (may refer to opposition controlled areas and presumably includes water, electricity, and/or public health)
- $6 million for State's Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations to support the their training programs for the SOC and media programs with the opposition
- $7 million spread over various programs to support mine and unexploded ordnance safety training, transitional justice programs, and counter-sectarianism program
The State Department still won't provide details on how much if any money has been spent on giving aid directly to the FSA. Those funds are being taken from Defense Department accounts and will be used for Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) and other supplies for some elements of the armed opposition.
"My understanding is that we're in consultation with the FSA leaders now on exactly what they need that we might be able to provide and how we're going to get it in," Nuland said Tuesday. "I think we said at the time that we were not going to put out a public dollar figure."
"So you're not going to put it out?" a reporter asked.
"We're not," Nuland responded.
"Why? Is it embarrassing?" the reporter pressed.
"No, because this is going to be something that grows over time, and we are going to seek support from the Congress as it moves forward and as we see the needs," Nuland responded.
In Rome, Kerry said the most significant portion of the funds will go directly to the Syrian opposition but he said the United States would not be sending military-related forms of non-lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels, such as body armor, night vision goggles, and vehicles.
"What we are doing in our part of that doing more is part of a whole. Different countries are choosing to do different things, and we make this evaluation based on the whole," Kerry said.
A senior State Department official said during the trip that the goal of U.S. policy is to pressure Syrian President Bashar al Assad to stop killing his own people and move toward a political solution that includes a democratic transition in Syria.
"We need to change the calculation that Assad is making," the official said. "We also need to support those on the ground in Syria who want a democratic future that respects human rights of all Syrians, provides a place for all Syrians. So we want to support on the political side and on the military side those who represent those values."
The New York Times reported last week that on the ground in Syria, the hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid that the international community has already provided are going to mostly regime controlled areas and is aiding the regime's public relations effort rather than supporting the rebel cause.
"Aid is a weapon," Omar Baylasani, a rebel commander from Idlib, told the Times. "Food supply is the winning card in the hands of the regime."