U.S. slow to deliver aid to Syrian rebels

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WASHINGTON -- While State Department officials are fond of saying they are providing hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to the Syrian opposition, only a fraction of the promised funds has arrived, and none has gone to the political body the United States looks to as an alternative to President Bashar Assad's regime.

The State Department this month released the most in-depth aid information to date, after weeks of McClatchy requests, and the figures back up the complaints of Syrian opposition leaders that the United States has been slow in fulfilling a pledge of more than $250 million. The topic is only expected to get thornier now that the administration has promised even more nonlethal aid after concluding that Mr. Assad's regime has used chemical weapons.

Such aid is separate from U.S. humanitarian assistance, which now totals more than $800 million pledged, including President Barack Obama's announcement late Monday of a $300 million boost. Both the humanitarian and nonlethal aid are extremely hard to track to their intended destinations, given the chaos of wartime Syria, the number of agencies involved and a reluctance to label aid as coming from the United States because of political concerns.

The State Department said $127 million in U.S. nonlethal aid had "gone out" to the opposition, and that another $123 million was still being discussed in Congress.

Officials said the funds were held up by a time-consuming process of vetting recipients in order to stop aid from going to extremists, winning approval from U.S. lawmakers and carving out delivery mechanisms in a war zone.

The four-page breakdown also acknowledges for the first time that the Obama administration hasn't sent a dime yet to the Syrian Opposition Coalition, which it recognizes as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and has spent months trying to shape into a cohesive body. Officials privately say they are losing patience with the fractious exile group, which has failed to agree on a leader, form a transitional authority or win legitimacy on the ground.

The State Department official conceded "we have not given any cash" to the coalition, but insisted it wasn't because the department was withholding funds.

The statement's carefully chosen wording leaves unclear how much of the first $127 million is on the ground, and even State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki appears confused on the subject. In the past week, Ms. Psaki has declared the $127 million both "delivered" and "in train," meaning it was in the process of being distributed.

The breakdown details how chunks of the $127 million were allocated. The State Department said $54 million -- among the first money pledged -- was spent on projects that helped to create a Free Lawyers' Union in Daraa province, offered media training that allowed broadcasting of Aleppo's local election results in March and provided satellite phones, so opposition activists could still communicate after the regime imposed a blackout.

Another $63 million, already approved by Congress, "is being used to deliver basic community services," such as repairing infrastructure and restarting public works in opposition-controlled areas.

The balance of that $127 million -- $10 million -- was spent on aid for the Supreme Military Council, the group that is nominally in charge of rebel militias, and that the State Department has become more focused on after months of fruitless dealings with the political opposition.



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