The White House ramped up “nonlethal” support for Syrian rebels and refugees Tuesday, committing a fresh $155 million in humanitarian aid and bringing the total U.S. monetary response to the Syrian civil war to $365 million.
President Obama has specifically directed $15 million of the new aid toward helping the some 700,000 Syrians who, the United Nations estimates, have fled their homeland as a result of the two-year-old war that has claimed more 60,000 lives.
With the U.N. estimating 200,000 refugees have left Syria just in the past seven weeks, Mr. Obama signed an order Tuesday authorizing aid funding from the United States “for the purpose of meeting unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs.”
An estimated 161,000 Syrian refugees are presently living in 15 camps peppered along the Turkey side of the Syria-Turkey border. Jordan has 171,033 registered Syrian refugees and Lebanon has 158,973, with tens of thousands more awaiting processing, officials said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the “new American aid will provide medicine, flour, wheat and clean water, clothing, blankets, boots, and stoves, health care for victims of sexual violence and field hospitals for the wounded.”
Channeling aid into Syria has presented political and strategic challenges for the administration, which has expressed concerns about the presence of Islamists among those battling the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The fear is that U.S. aid will end up in the wrong hands.
Mr. Carney, meanwhile, said Tuesday that “the dangers of operating in Syria mean that many Syrians may not know that the aid they are receiving is provided by the United States.”
“It is a cruel fact that humanitarian aid providers and recipients are being deliberately targeted in Syria,” he said. “Our priority is to get American aid to those in need without endangering them or our humanitarian partners, which is why much of our aid is provided quietly and without fanfare and acknowledgment.”
The White House said the new U.S. funds include contributions to international aid groups and nongovernmental organizations and covers payments by the State Department for administrative expenses.
So far, however, the bulk of the U.S. commitment to the Syrian crisis has been channeled to opposition groups inside the war zone who are struggling to overthrow Mr. Assad.
While the Obama administration has publicly opposed directly arming rebels battling against Syrian military forces loyal to Mr. Assad, the State Department has sought to channel what officials describe as “nonlethal” aid into the nation in hopes of strategically bolstering the opposition.
In November, for instance, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland asserted that communications equipment being provided to Syrian opposition groups was capable of resisting penetration from spies working for the Damascus regime.
At the time, the U.S. had sent about 2,000 pieces of equipment from phones to computers and cameras, Mrs. Nuland said. “They are all designed to be independent from and able to circumvent the Syrian domestic network, precisely for the reason of keeping them safe, keeping them secure from regime tampering, regime listening and regime interruption,” she said.
On Wednesday, a delegation of senior U.S. officials will attend a special conference in Kuwait to review overall international aid commitments to Syria. The delegation, which recently visited Turkey to assess the situation there, includes Anne C. Richard, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration; Nancy Lindborg, USAID assistant administrator for democracy, conflict, and humanitarian assistance; and Robert Ford, U.S. ambassador to Syria.
Ms. Richard and Ms. Lindborg continued on to Jordan, where they met with refugees, international and “governmental organizations, and Jordanian government officials. Mr. Ford separately attended French-hosted meetings to discuss “lethal support to the Syrian opposition.