U.S., U.K. Suspend Some Aid To Syrian Rebels

December 11, 2013

The U.S. and Britain are suspending all non-lethal aid to Syria’s rebels because of infighting among the various factions opposed to President Bashar Assad.

The U.S. decision was reported by The Associated Press, which cited an unnamed U.S. Embassy official in Ankara, the Turkish capital. Humaniatrian aid won’t be affected, the official said. The British decision was reported by Reuters, which quoted an unnamed British Embassy official in the city.

The AP reports:

“The decision comes days after fighters from the Islamic Front, an umbrella group of six major rebel groups, seized bases and warehouses belonging to the mainstream Western-backed Free Syrian Army rebel group at the Bab al-Hawa crossing between Syria and Turkey.”

The Islamic Front says its goal is to set up an Islamic state in Syria.

As NPR’s Deborah Amos reported in September, “moderate rebel groups in Syria are becoming less influential in comparison to more radical Islamist factions.”

“The civilian, secular democracy folks have been sidelined,” David Kilcullen, the CEO of Caerus, a Virginia-based strategy firm, told Deb. “That is just a fact of life and I do think it’s tragic. Today, you are looking at a polarized resistance, a larger number at the extremes.”

But the FSA called the U.S. and British decisions mistaken.

“We hope our friends will rethink and wait for a few days when things will be clearer,” FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad said, according to Reuters.

In the past, the two countries have offered body armour, food, money and radios to the rebels..

Reuters quoted the U.S. Embassy spokesman as saying the situation was being investigated “to inventory the status of U.S. equipment and supplies provided to the SMC.” The British official expressed similar views.

But in London, Prime Minister David Cameron emphasized the need to work with moderate members of the Syrian opposition.

“We must not allow this argument to develop that the only opposition in Syria is an extremist opposition,” he told lawmakers.

The opposition infighting comes amid gains by Assad’s regime in the fighting that has gripped the country. And as Deb reported last month:

“The regime is unlikely to retake all rebel-held areas, says [military analyst Jeffrey] White. But recent gains show the momentum has shifted. Is the Syrian army stronger, or the rebels weaker? Analysts say it’s a bit of both. Mainstream rebel groups backed by the West and Saudi Arabia have been weakened by in-fighting, challenged by radical Islamist brigades, some of them tied to al-Qaida.”

The nearly three year civil war has killed more than 100,000 people, and created a massive refugee crisis that has affected Syria’s neighbors.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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