The United States will pledge an additional $40 million for Syrian opposition groups currently battling the Islamic State group and Syrian President Bashar Assad, Secretary of State John Kerry announced Wednesday. More than half of the funding will be allocated toward helping Syria’s moderate rebel groups “build the capacity of governing,” and eventually become a political solution to Syria’s blood-soaked civil war.
“Bashar Assad wants you to believe that the Syrian people have two options only: support his murderous regime or face a Syria ruled by extremist thugs from groups like ISIL [Islamic State group] or [Jabhat] al-Nusra,” Kerry said. “But everybody in this room knows better.”
Additional funding for moderate groups in Syria was one part of President Barack Obama’s four-point plan to combat the militant group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Of the $40 million, $15 million will cover communications equipment, new vehicles and living necessities for armed opposition groups in Syria.
Also at the United Nations meeting Wednesday, Japan pledged $25.5 million in aid for Iraq and Syria, and Britain will provide $26 million in funding so that “moderate rebels consolidate their hold on territory they control,” according to Reuters.
Syria’s opposition consists of the Syrian National Coalition and fighters in an array of armed groups. Rebels have been fighting a brutal battle against the Assad regime since the civil war broke out in 2011, which has only been made worse by ISIS’s territorial gains over the last few months. More than 191,000 people have died and at least 10.8 million Syrians are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
More than 50 nations have agreed in some capacity to join the U.S.-led coalition that aims to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, Kerry said. At least five of those 50 nations took part in the U.S.-led aerial campaign targeting ISIS and al Qaeda strongholds in Syria that began Monday.
Critics of the U.S. strategy in Syria and experts on the region have warned that the air campaign could lead to territorial gains for the Assad regime. However, Kerry’s pledge Wednesday emphasized that the Obama administration was in no way trying to support Assad.
“The moderate opposition remains Syria’s best hope,” Kerry said. “They’re the only option for Syria’s future that we are prepared to accept.”