US and Britain Suspend Funding for Syrian Rebels
The United States and Britain have both rescinded funding for Syrian rebel groups, news outlets reported Wednesday.
According to Time, a US official stated to the press that it would stop providing military equipment to rebel factions after more extreme Islamist groups took over a base run by more "moderate," Western-backed groups.
The decision would not affect humanitarian aid, according to the official. The US will also continue to supply Syrian fighters in the southern end of the country with weapons via Jordan.
BBC News notes that the US government has pledged to provide some $250 million in non-lethal assistance to the National Coalition, local opposition councils and the SMC. Until now, various rebel brigades have been provided with food rations, medical supplies, communications equipment and vehicles.
Britain has pledged more than £20 million (33 milion dollars) of non-lethal assistance, including 4x4 vehicles, body armor, generators, communications equipment, water purification kits and protection against chemical weapons.
UK officials told BBC that the decision to suspend funding was temporary and still under investigation.
The decision was made after reports Friday that the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF) — a rebel alliance of groups that seek an Islamic state but claim they are not linked to Al Qaeda — took control of a base along the Syria-Turkey border that was previously held by the once-Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), officials say.
The infighting among rebel groups in Syria’s northern region has mushroomed, taking precedence at times over the fight against Assad's forces. The developing clashes between groups have alienated Western supporters, who are reluctant to back hardline extremism.
The FSA once dominated the rebellion against the regime of President Bashar Assad, and initially received Western backing for its secularism and its prominence in the rebel movement. However, the movement has been losing traction against Islamist rebel groups. Some of these groups are Al Qaeda-linked; others are independent factions.
Last month, several Islamist groups not affiliated with Al Qaeda united to become the SIF, under the banner ideology of a Syria ruled by fundamentalist Islamic teachings, but without the global Islamist agenda Al Qaeda promotes. The SIF has reportedly become the most powerful rebel faction in the embattled country, claiming to have up to 60,000 fighters at its disposal.
US and other Western powers met with the new group last month, in the hopes that a unified rebel force would be more conducive for peace talks slated for Geneva in 2014.
However, officials claim that the move may have backfired.
"The British position - which is the same as our European friends and partners and the American position - is clearly, above all else, to get peace talks started in Geneva," said British Foreign Minister Hugh Robertson to BBC. "As part of that, we were trying to build up coalition forces."
Despite that, Britain is expressing some caution, Robertson maintained that suspension of aid "makes sense" until the government can confirm that its equipment did not fall into the wrong hands.