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Kerry Pledges Aid to Syrian Opposition

Michael Johnson

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pledged $60 million in “non-lethal” aid to Syrian political opposition groups during a Friends of Syria meeting in Rome on Thursday. The assistance would go to liberated Syrian communities to “fulfil administrative functions” and provide basic services. The U.S. would also give food and medical aid to rebel fighters.

“The stakes are really high, and we can’t risk letting this country — in the heart of the Middle East — be destroyed by vicious autocrats or hijacked by the extremists” said Kerry. Indeed, the U.S. has previously provided $384 million in humanitarian assistance, and gave $54 million to the Syrian National Council (SNC), an opposition umbrella group dominated by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Britain, along with other nations, may provide equipment such as body armor and night vision goggles.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, sits between Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi, right, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague during meetings at Villa Madama in Rome on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013 (Photo: AP)

But rebels have requested more weapons in order to defeat the Syrian government. Rebel forces demanded anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to help counter Syrian President Asad’s Russian supplied arsenal. Before the conference, the SNC threatened to boycott the Rome meeting saying that U.S. statements “are not accompanied by action.” Just last week the EU declined to lift a ban on arms trades with Syria, while approving direct aid to rebels.

The New York Times has also revealed Washington is working on a training facility for Syrian rebels, but its location and size were not detailed. U.S. officials show increasing concern that extremists groups, especially the al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front, could take over parts of the country. These jihadist groups could provide public services, gaining authority and influence over local populations. The U.S. hopes aiding non-extremist opposition factions will help them better assert control in a post-Asad Syria.

It remains unclear whether President Obama’s new cabinet members, such as Secretary Kerry, will bring a substantial change in American policy towards Syria. With nearly 70,000 dead and almost one million refugees displaced, Syria’s opposition needs aid now as much as ever.