News / Middle East

US Suspends Non-Lethal Aid for Syrian Rebels

A Syrian refugee carries bread and bottles of water during a winter storm in Zahle town, in the Bekaa Valley, Dec. 11, 2013.
A Syrian refugee carries bread and bottles of water during a winter storm in Zahle town, in the Bekaa Valley, Dec. 11, 2013.
The United States confirmed Wednesday that non-lethal aid to northern Syria has been suspended after Islamist fighters seized warehouses used by the Western-backed Free Syrian Army rebels.  

The White House and State Department made a point of emphasizing that humanitarian aid continues, though non-lethal assistance has been suspended.

Fighters from the Islamic Front, an umbrella group of six major rebel brigades, seized Free Syrian Army bases and weapons warehouses at a border crossing between Syria and Turkey.

Independent from the FSA, the front seeks to establish an Islamic state in Syria.

U.S. spokesmen said Washington is concerned about reports of the seizures, is "still gathering facts and consulting with General Idriss" and others on the rebel Supreme Military Council "to inventory the status of U.S. equipment and supplies."

White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest was asked if the suspension reflects a loss of faith in the ability of FSA rebels to fight without Islamic extremist interference or participation.

He said U.S. assistance is aimed at supporting moderate opposition elements, and responded this way when asked if the suspension weakens military opposition to  President Bashar al-Assad.

"What we are interested in doing is trying to coordinate and lift - coordinate with and lift up the moderate elements of the opposition. And that has been a challenge from the very beginning, both to identify the moderate elements of the opposition and to provide them the support that they need to try to bring about the kind of transition that reflects the will of the Syrian people. That has been a challenging proposition from the very beginning, and that continues to be challenging," said  Earnest.

Britain also suspended its nonlethal aid.  A Free Syrian Army official urged the U.S. and Britain to "re-think" the decision and wait until there is more clarity on the ground.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked how long the suspension might last.

"I wouldn't want to put a day on - or a date or a day on it. Obviously it's in our interests and the international community's interest to resume - to have the aid going through this area as soon as we can, but we want to evaluate the circumstances on the ground and make a decision," said Psaki.

Psaki and Earnest said humanitarian assistance distributed through international and nongovernmental organizations, including the United Nations, is not affected.

Asked for clarification later, a White House official referred this reporter to the State Department "for further details on the area impacted by the suspension."

Speaking with VOA's Senate correspondent on Capitol Hill, Republican Senator John McCain voiced his concern.

"It's a recognition of the reality that parts of the northern Syrian border have been taken over by the al-Nusra and other extremist Islamist groups directly attribute to [directly as a result of] our failure to help people who are the moderates, the Free Syrian Army, led by General Idriss.  Our failure to help them while 5,000 Hezbollah came in, while plane loads of arms came in from Russia, while [Iran's] Revolutionary Guard is on the ground, and we have failed," said McCain.

McCain said external assistance has allowed Syrian President Assad to regain momentum on the ground from rebel forces.

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Comments
     
by: Hassan Hussein from: Iran
December 12, 2013 1:55 AM
Iran and Hezbollah are terrorists that invaded Syria and are killing civilians. Iranian pilots were captured after their jets were shot down by rebels. America needs to destroy Iran completely and everything will be okay.

by: Anonymous
December 11, 2013 10:55 PM
It's only "Suspended" but will likely continue in another location or at another date very soon.

by: ali baba from: new york
December 11, 2013 8:06 PM
the fact is Bashar el Assad is less evil than the rebel. American made a poor judgment when they supported Osama bin laden group in Syria,\. American made a poor judgment decision when they supported Muslim brotherhood in Egypt. . American made a poor judgment when they supported Libya. . .I believe the current Democratic policy makers are not good to understand the Middle east mentality. they should consult Gorge W bush team to give them a word of advise of how they can take the right decision with Arab
In Response

by: Anonymous
December 11, 2013 10:53 PM
Nah, the fact is bashar al assad thugs commited heinous crimes in Syria , something he has 101% full control over. These thugs are protecting bashar al assad from prosecution by Syrians for the deaths of thousands. The top terrorist that terrrorized the most people and killed the most civilians is None Other than Bashar al Assad of Syria.

He has already lost the war by commiting such horrific crimes of such large scale (NOT INCLUDING CHEMICALS), now it is a matter of the international community going after him and holding him accountable for his crimes.

by: Walid from: Saudi Arabia
December 11, 2013 3:22 PM
really, oh what a shame... so the US wants the Muslim Brotherhood back in power in Egypt... and the Iranian Hezbullah in Syria... hey America, you have stopped being responsible under the occupation of Obama, and now you are becoming reckless and destructive... do you even know what is it you are doing...?? your incompetency is just breathtaking... or should i say Obama's incompetency is stunning...??
In Response

by: ali baba from: new york
December 11, 2013 8:12 PM
Let me remind you that Saudi Arabia is the country of double standard. what they in public is different from what they say in the dark. 19 hijackers from Saudi Arabia. Saudi produce Osama bin laden. Saudi support all terrorism group in secret. who is going to trust Saudi

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