The U.S. State Department said on Friday it was working with Congress to provide about $70 million in non-lethal aid to Syrian opposition groups fighting the government of President Bashar Assad, at an event commemorating the fourth anniversary of the conflict. The aid will go toward community services, information security training, documentation of rights abuses by the regime, and supporting “vetted units of the armed opposition,” the State Department said, according to Reuters.
The U.S. has also separately committed to train and equip rebels to fight the Islamic State group. “As we have long said, Assad must go and be replaced through a negotiated political transition that is representative of the Syrian people,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
The new round of funding would bring the total amount of U.S. assistance committed to Syrian opposition to $400 million since the conflict began four years ago, according to Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “With this additional funding, the United States will have committed nearly $400 million to support the opposition since the start of the revolution. And in two weeks, we will again step up to pledge generously at the conference in Kuwait to fund humanitarian assistance for displaced Syrians and refugees in neighboring states,” Blinken said in a statement.
Early in March, the Washington Post reported that Harakat Hazm, the first Syrian rebel group to receive weapons and other lethal aid, had disbanded in the face of assaults from al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. Harakat Hazm and other groups have reportedly complained that the amount of lethal aid they had received was insufficient to make a difference in Syria’s fragmented political scene.
The announcement came as Kurdish Women's Protection Units' (YPG) fighters asked the U.S.-led coalition to attack ISIS positions near Tal Tamr and Ras al-Ain, claiming the militants were sending reinforcements through that area, Reuters reported. Redor Khalil, a YPG spokesman, called on all those capable of fighting in the area to join the Kurdish militants in their battle against ISIS. “Everyone is urged to come and defend,” he reportedly said.
The fourth anniversary of the Syrian conflict, which has claimed over 210,000 lives, will fall on Sunday. Supporters of the opposition reportedly held protests in Idlib, Aleppo and rural Damascus on Friday, holding signs with the slogan “four years on, we continue.”