Tag: Syria

Trump Is Right About Syria: It’s Time To Leave

President Trump recently suggested that the United States should come out of Syria “very soon.” Leading voices of the foreign policy establishment — in the Pentagon, State Department, Congress, and the media — pushed back, calling for the United States to stay in Syria. Trump quickly acquiesced. Trump was right (yes, a rarity) while the security state was wrong yet again. It’s long past time for the United States to end its destructive military engagement in Syria and across the Middle East, though the security state seems unlikely to let this happen.

The foreign policy establishment opposes the US exit from Syria on the grounds that it would empower Iran and Russia, Syria’s allies, as made clear in January by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in close coordination with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. More generally, the security state typically tries to maintain military bases in those places where the United States has once intervened. That is why there are several hundred US military bases around the world in more than 60 countries.

The security state believes that the United States has the right and the means to determine who governs in the Middle East, and which allies they choose. We should fight in Syria, they believe, because the foreign policy establishment doesn’t like Bashar al-Assad and especially the fact that he keeps Iran and Russia as allies. For this reason, Senator Lindsey Graham declared that leaving Syria “is the single worst decision the president could make.”

This naive approach to foreign policy — overthrow the governments we don’t like and replace them with ones we do like — is the crux of the US foreign policy problem. As a result of this approach, the United States has been enmeshed in nonstop wars of regime change in the Middle East and North Africa, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Trump once talked about quitting Afghanistan, but the United States remains there too since the security state wants it that way.

The US wars of regime change violate international law, cost trillions of dollars, undermine US democracy as the wars are conducted with secrecy and non-stop lies, and almost always fail in their aims. Either they overthrow the government only to be followed by violence and instability (as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya) or they fail to overthrow the government, and instead provoke an ongoing bloody war (as in Syria).

It’s time for the US public to understand the Syrian war. The mainstream media have antiseptically described it as a civil war. It has been nothing of the sort. Since its start in 2011, it has been a war pushed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, and others, to topple Assad and force Iran and Russia out of Syria.

In fact, the war has failed to accomplish anything other than to destroy Syria, destabilize Europe, and bleed the United States. Around 500,000 are estimated to have died in the war, with 10 million displaced. Assad is still in power, and Iran and Russia are still his allies. America’s efforts, in short, have been a disaster.

The US decision to try to depose Assad was taken at the time of the 2011 Arab Spring. When protests erupted in Syria, and Assad’s regime ruthlessly suppressed the protesters, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton moved to remove Assad. They seem to have believed that a quick nudge would topple the regime, and apparently didn’t think very accurately about the likelihood of success.

Since a direct US-led war on Syria would have been a violation of international law, Obama unleashed the CIA to operate covertly with Saudi Arabia and other countries. The CIA and Saudi Arabia teamed up in an operation code-named Timber Sycamore to back anti-Assad Syrian forces and jihadists from outside Syria. There was, of course, no vote by Congress, no honest leveling with the American people, and no UN vote.

The US-Saudi efforts were effectively countered by Syria, Iran, and Russia. In 2014, some of the jihadists broke away to form ISIS and declare a caliphate, after which the United States began to fight ISIS too. The United States backed Kurdish fighters to combat ISIS, eventually driving an irate anti-Kurdish Turkey into an implicit alliance with Russia.

After six years of war, destruction, and failure in Syria, it’s time for the Syrian bloodletting to end, most importantly by ending US support for anti-Assad forces. Yet the security state remains fixated on the presence of Iran and Russia in Syria.

End the war, and let diplomacy under a UN framework sort out the aftermath of a US-led war that never should have occurred. Crucially, the American people must also be vigilant to stop the foreign policy establishment from revving up yet another war, this time with Iran, which would cause an even greater disaster.

USAID’s Syria Complex Emergency Fact Sheet

On April 5, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon announced more than $566 million in humanitarian funding for Syria and neighboring countries, bringing total U.S. Government (USG) humanitarian assistance to more than $6.5 billion since the start of the Syria crisis.

Under Secretary Shannon announced the funding at the Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region conference in Brussels. The announcement includes more than $431 million from State/PRM, $127 million from USAID/FFP, and $8 million from USAID/OFDA to support humanitarian efforts in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, as well as humanitarian assistance inside Syria.

On March 13, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released the 2017 Syria Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), requesting $3.4 billion to reach approximately nine million people in Syria with direct emergency relief assistance and approximately 12.8 million people through multi-sector humanitarian service delivery. Overall, the HRP and complementary Humanitarian Needs Overview, released in December 2016, identified 13.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including 6.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). The HRP reports that one of every three people in Syria is food insecure and four of every five people live in poverty. The conflict continues to displace an average of approximately 6,150 people per day.

Parties to the conflict, including the Syrian Arab Republic Government (SARG) and several armed opposition groups (AOGs), met in Geneva for the fifth round of UNmediated peace negotiations between March 24 and 31. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura facilitated the Geneva V conference, which included discussions on governance, constitution-making, elections, and counterterrorism, and resulted in limited progress.


The Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster—the coordinating body for humanitarian CCCM activities, comprising UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other stakeholders—recorded nearly 687,000 displacements, including approximately 44,000 new displacements, from conflict-affected areas in northern and southern Syria between February 1 and March 14. The figure includes nearly 672,000 people displaced from Aleppo, Dayr az Zawr, Al Hasakah, Hamah, Homs, Idlib, Lattakia, and Ar Raqqah governorates and nearly 15,000 people displaced from Damascus, Dar’a, and Rif Damascus governorates. The CCCM Cluster has noted no significant change in the rate of displacement between February and March.

Northern Syria

Intensified airstrikes—allegedly led by the SARG and the Government of the Russian Federation (GoRF) and involving chemical weapons—struck opposition-held areas in southern Idlib’s Khan Shaykun sub-district on April 4, resulting in approximately 100 deaths and widespread injuries, according to USAID partners, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and international media. A subsequent attack on April 4 struck a hospital in southern Idlib, where patients had relocated following an April 2 attack on another major hospital in the governorate, international media report. The attacks follow earlier accounts of the alleged use of chemical weapons in northern Hamah Governorate’s Kafr Zeita sub-district on March 30. In response to the attacks, the UN Security Council called an emergency meeting on April 5 to discuss the suspected chemical attack in northern Syria.

Clashes between SARG forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as well as between the U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) and ISIS, in Aleppo’s Menbij District are driving further displacement from and within northern Aleppo. Between February 27 and March 16, the fighting displaced approximately 60,000 people within Menbij and to other parts of Aleppo, as well as to Ar Raqqah and Al Hasakah, according to OCHA. A preliminary assessment conducted on March 3 found approximately 7,500 IDPs sheltering in open fields and alongside roadways; subsequent reports from humanitarian agencies suggest that an additional 25,000–30,000 people displaced from Menbij lack access to adequate shelter in areas of displacement. Humanitarian agencies are distributing relief items and providing affected households with health, nutrition, shelter, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) support, while monitoring the situation and responding to other emerging needs in the area. Additionally, a USAID/OFDA partner has provided more than 1,600 emergency shelter kits to affected populations in Menbij as well as in Ar Raqqah’s Ein Issa sub-district and Tel Abyad District.

From March 1 to April 3, the ongoing SDF offensive to retake the city of Ar Raqqah from ISIS displaced more than 21,600 people, including nearly 19,500 people displaced within Ar Raqqah Governorate and more than 2,100 people displaced to parts of Aleppo, Dayr az Zawr, and Idlib, according to USG partner the International Organization for Migration (IOM). As the offensive continues, population movement remains fluid, with 1,000 additional displacements from Ar Raqqah recorded on April 4 alone.

In March, SARG forces gained additional territory from ISIS in the Aleppo sub-district of Al Khafsa, including assuming control of Al Khafsa town and a key water pumping station, which supplies water to Aleppo’s Al Bab, Deir Hafer, and Menbij districts, as well as to the city of Aleppo. The water station was inoperable for nearly two months due to damage; however, following its transfer to SARG control, the station was reportedly repaired and operating at an unknown level of capacity as of March 15, according to local media.

Between February 3 and March 9, the UN registered more than 141,000 IDPs in newly accessible neighborhoods in the city of Aleppo; the areas are not yet safe for return due to heavy structural damages and the presence of explosive remnants of war (ERW) and landmines, OCHA reports. In February, relief agencies reported 16 deaths and several injuries resulting from ERW in Aleppo. While some IDPs have returned to newly accessible neighborhoods in the city, nearly 46,000 people remain displaced in western Aleppo city, while more than 5,000 IDPs remain at the Jibreen transitional shelter in the eastern outskirts of the city.

On February 8, shelling struck a Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) distribution point in the city of Aleppo, killing four people, including one SARC staff member and two beneficiaries who had arrived at the site to collect humanitarian assistance. The shelling also resulted in several injuries.

Southern and Central Syria

Following several weeks of intensified airstrikes targeting the neighborhood of Al Wa’er in the city of Homs, SARG authorities and AOGs agreed to new reconciliation terms brokered by the GoRF on March 13, effectively ceding control of the city to the SARG. Pursuant to the terms agreement, approximately 1,400 people, including irreconcilable fighters and their families, had relocated from Al Wa’er to the northern Aleppo town of Jarablus on March 18. Al Wa’er—the last opposition-held neighborhood in the city—had been under siege since 2013, triggering shortages of medicine and other relief supplies. The UN last reached the neighborhood in September 2016.

Intensified fighting between SARG forces and AOGs in opposition-controlled areas of the Dar’a city, as well as among moderate and extremist opposition groups in southwestern parts of the governorate, had displaced up to 30,000 people as of March 22, according to USG partner the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The fighting and general insecurity is impeding humanitarian access in Dar’a, making it difficult to triangulate displacement figures, the UN agency notes.

Clashes continue between ISIS-affiliated Jaysh Khaled Ibn Waleed (JKW) forces and AOGs in southwestern parts of Dar’a, with local media reporting high casualty figures and several executions in JKW-controlled territory. The fighting follows the extremist groups’ launch of an unexpected offensive in southwestern Dar’a in late February, during which it made significant territorial advances, including seizing control of the towns of Ain Thakar, Edqan, Hit, Jlein, Saham elGolan, Sehm Al Jolan Dam, and Tassil.

Armed groups launched a major assault on SARG positions near the city of Hamah on March 21, taking control of at least nine villages and towns and advancing within a few kilometers of the SARG-held city, international media report. The fighting has prompted at least 10,000 people to flee from the city in recent days, according to an international NGO.


A UN interagency convoy, including USAID/FFP partner the UN World Food Program (WFP), delivered multi-sector assistance to meet the needs of approximately 60,000 people in the Rif Damascus towns of Madaya and Az Zabadani, as well as the Idlib towns of Al Fu’ah and Kafrayya on March 14. The UN last reached the four besieged towns in late November 2016. In addition to delivering general food rations, WFP provided households across the four towns with two bags of wheat flour and one ready-to-eat (RTE) food ration. WFP also delivered a three-month supply of nutritional supplements for the treatment of moderate acute malnutrition in 180 children across the four towns.

Intensified clashes between AOGs and SARG forces erupted in northeastern parts of Syria’s capital city of Damascus in mid-to-late March, hindering the delivery of humanitarian assistance to conflict-affected populations in the city and surrounding areas. As of March 24, an estimated 300,000 people in Rif Damascus’s Eastern Ghouta region, including in the besieged city of Douma and the besieged sub-district of Kafr Batna, remained cut off from humanitarian assistance, prompting the UN to call for a temporary suspension of hostilities to enable humanitarian access to affected areas, international media report. The UN last reached Kafr Batna and Douma in June and October 2016, respectively.

Since the implementation of a reconciliation deal in the Wadi Barada area of Rif Damascus in late January, the humanitarian situation has improved significantly, primarily due to the easing of SARG-imposed access restrictions, according to a USAID/OFDA partner. In February, the SARG opened two formal access points, facilitating the movement of civilians to and from Wadi Barada for the first time since November 2016. The easing of siege conditions has allowed commercial vehicles to deliver food, fuel, and household items, which had been largely unavailable in recent months. Nonetheless, prices for basic food commodities and household items remained much higher than in surrounding areas as of March 20, the partner reports. The easing of siege conditions in Wadi Barada has also enabled the delivery of critical medical supplies, the reopening of primary health care facilities, and the evacuation of patients requiring specialized treatment to Damascus, contributing to improved health conditions.

Pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2332, the UN and its humanitarian partners continue to deliver cross-line and cross-border assistance to Syria from Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey. Between February 1 and 31, three UN humanitarian convoys delivered food assistance for approximately 64,000 people and relief commodities for more than 30,000 people via the Ramtha border crossing between Jordan and Syria; the figures represent a significant decrease from January, when the UN delivered assistance for more than 400,000 people. Insecurity in Dar’a prompted the UN to suspend humanitarian convoys traveling from Jordan to southern Syria on February 13, which likely contributed to the decrease in beneficiaries in February. As of March 12, the UN had resumed cross-border convoys via Ramtha, according to the Jordan-based Food Security Cluster.

With approximately $5 million in FY 2017 assistance, USAID/OFDA continues to support OCHA to ensure greater accountability, coherence, and transparency related to the Syria crisis response. USAID/OFDA funding also supports improved operational coordination and preparedness.


An estimated 9 million people across Syria are in need of emergency food assistance, agriculture support, and livelihoods interventions, according to the UN. The figure includes 7 million people—one in three Syrians—who are food insecure and an additional 2 million people at risk of food insecurity. By comparison, the 2016 HRP indicated 8.7 people in need of agriculture and food-related assistance.

Through implementing partners based in Al Hasakah’s city of Qamishli, WFP is supporting the emergency food assistance needs of people displaced in Menbij. As of March 20, WFP had distributed RTE rations to address the immediate food needs of approximately 35,000 people displaced across 37 villages in Menbij for five days. Additionally, WFP maintains a supply of approximately 7,500 RTE rations in Qamishli, which the UN agency plans to dispatch to IDPs sheltering in western areas of Ar Raqqah.

As of March 5, WFP had completed 200 airdrop rotations to the ISIS-besieged city of Dayr Az Zawr, where approximately 93,500 people are in urgent need of food assistance. Overall, WFP reports that the airdrop operations have provided a total of 3,800 metric tons of emergency food and other humanitarian relief supplies for approximately 90,000 people since the air operations began in April 2016.

Between March 23 and 29, USAID/OFDA partner the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) screened 66 children and 37 pregnant and lactating women for malnutrition at the UNICEF-supported clinic at the informal Rukban settlement, located along the Syria–Jordan border berm, identifying three children with moderate acute malnutrition and three malnourished pregnant or lactating women. In response, UNICEF provided ready-to-use supplementary food. UNICEF-led infant and young child feeding (IYCF) counseling at the Rukban clinic reached 12 pregnant and 52 lactating women from March 23 to 29, raising the total number of pregnant and lactating women reached with IYCF counseling at the clinic to nearly 290 since the activity began.


The USAID/OFDA-funded Early Warning Alert and Response Network (EWARN) reported 121 suspected measles cases in Damascus and Rif Damascus from January to February; nearly 75 percent of the reported cases originated in Kafr Batna. All cases met the clinical case definition for measles, and the SARG Ministry of Health confirmed at least 33 cases via diagnostic testing. Health officers anticipate limited capacity for additional diagnostic testing due to access restrictions in Eastern Ghouta. The new, suspected cases represent an increase from 2015 and 2016, during which EWARN reported only 50 suspected measles cases in Rif Damascus. USAID/OFDA partner the UNICEF is coordinating health response efforts in Eastern Ghouta through the planned cross-line delivery of measles vaccinations and Vitamin A supplements from Damascus.

The ongoing conflict, including attacks on health infrastructure and personnel, continues to diminish health care capacity throughout Syria. In 2016, parties to the conflict conducted at least 105 attacks on hospitals and the attacks resulted in at least 14 health care worker deaths, the UN reports. Additionally, the conflict has disrupted supply chains, contributing to reduced supplies of essential medicines and supplies, and impeded medical evacuations, particularly in areas under siege. The lack of basic utilities, such as electricity, sanitation services, and safe drinking water, has also heightened vulnerability to disease transmission in conflict-affected areas. As a result, the 2017 HRP estimates that 12.8 million people in Syria, including 4.5 million IDPs, are in critical need of health assistance, including access to primary health care services, essential medicines, immunizations, and trauma care, among other health-related needs. The figure marks a significant increase in the number of people requiring health assistance from 2016, estimated at 11.5 million. The HRP requests $459 million to meet the health-related needs of conflict-affected communities, including through the provision of life-saving health assistance, support for health sector coordination and information systems, and efforts to strengthen community resilience.

With FY 2016 assistance, USAID/OFDA continues to support several NGO partners to respond to the health needs of conflict-affected populations in Syria. USAID/OFDA-funded activities include primary health care services, training for Syrian medical workers, the provision of medical supplies, and support for polio vaccination campaigns. In addition, USAID/OFDA partner UNICEF is assisting populations sheltering at the Rukban and Hadalat settlements along the Syria–Jordan border berm. From March 23 to 29, UNICEF health consultations benefited nearly 80 children younger than five years of age; the most common cause for consultation was respiratory infection. Cumulatively, UNICEF has conducted nearly 580 health consultations, reaching more than 500 people in Rukban and approximately 70 people in Hadalat, since November 2016.

In response to the intensified airstrikes and alleged chemical weapons use in Idlib, UNICEF is mobilizing nine ambulances to transport patients to hospitals in northern Aleppo and Idlib and supporting medical treatment at four hospitals with the capacity to treat up to 22,500 cases per month. From April 4 to 6, several USAID/OFDA-supported health facilities responded to the alleged chemical weapon attacks by treating 165 severe cases, including 60 children, and 400 minor cases or consultations. UNICEF is also providing atropine, a nerve agent exposure medication, for 1,000 cases and additional emergency medical supplies sufficient to treat up to 1,500 additional severe cases. UNICEF has also distributed informational brochures to assist in identifying the chemical weapon used in the attack and is raising awareness among its field staff to increase response capacity to potential future chemical attacks.


Approximately 51 percent of Syria’s population lacks sustained access to the public water network, according to the UN. Additionally, an estimated 8.2 million people, including IDPs and those remaining in UN-declared besieged areas or in areas controlled by extremist groups, require urgent WASH assistance.

To increase water access for IDPs sheltering at the berm, UNICEF is providing an average of 12 and 25 liters of potable water per person per day in Rukban and Hadalat, respectively, and supporting the establishment of working water supply infrastructure and access points at both sites. A water supply station in Hadalat will likely be functional by mid-April, while a new borehole in Rubkan will likely be operational by late June, the UN organization reports.

With nearly $1.8 million in FY 2017 assistance, USAID/OFDA is also supporting increased efforts to address the needs of IDPs in Aleppo and Ar Raqqah. USAID/OFDA-funded activities include the distribution of hygiene kits and other relief commodities, as well as the restoration of water supply and sanitation infrastructure in conflict-affected areas.


As of March 24, UNHCR had registered nearly 5 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, as well as parts of northern Africa. Turkey remains the largest host nation, with nearly 3 million Syrian refugees registered in the country as of mid-March.

In coordination with UNICEF, USG partner the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) conducted landmine awareness trainings for nearly 20 psychosocial support counselors in Damascus’s Husseiniyeh, Khan Eshieh, and Qabr Essit camps; each of the camps are located in areas presently under SARG control, but previously designated as hard-to-reach or otherwise directly impacted by the hostilities. UNRWA plans to conduct additional trainings in landmine awareness for students and teachers in the coming weeks. With USG support, UNRWA is also providing primary education for nearly 45,500 school-aged children attending more than 100 UNRWA-managed schools across Syria.

WFP continues to support the food-related needs of Syrian refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon through the distribution of electronic food vouchers. The USAID/FFP-funded e-voucher program enables vulnerable people to access local supermarkets, thereby helping to restore their dignity, and enables the purchase of local food supplies. To date, the program has issued more $1.7 billion in food vouchers.

The recent announcement of USG funding included approximately $397 million to continue support for the more than five million Syrian refugees as well as host communities in the region. USG funding is supporting refugees in both camp and non-camp settings to meet their basic needs, including through the provision of education, food, health, shelter, and WASH support. USG funding is also supporting refugee registration, information helplines, protection services, as well as livelihoods programming and vocational training, among other activities.


In mid-March, the UN released the 2017 HRP, requesting $3.4 billion to address the critical needs of conflict-affected people in Syria. The appeal represents an increase of approximately $300 million from the 2016 HRP, and seeks to provide agricultural support and emergency food assistance to 9 million people; emergency relief commodities and shelter support to 4.9 million and 740,000 people, respectively; health assistance for 12.8 million people; and protection services for 9.7 million people, among other interventions. As of April 6, international donors had contributed more than $501 million—approximately 15 percent of the requested total—toward the 2017 HRP, according to the UN’s Financial Tracking Service (FTS).

On March 23, the Government of Germany (GoG) pledged approximately $254 million to support humanitarian assistance and stabilization programs in Iraq and Syria. The announcement coincided with the meeting of the Global Coalition working to defeat ISIS, held in Washington, D.C., from March 22 to 23. The GoG’s plans to continue funding key efforts to facilitate the safe return of civilians and promote economic stability and security in Syria, including through demining programs, the restoration of safe drinking water and electrical systems, and the provision of education and livelihoods support. In FY 2016, the GoG provided $1.2 billion for humanitarian assistance and stabilization programs in Syria.

On March 6, the Government of Japan (GoJ) provided more than $15 million in funding to WFP to assist nearly six million conflict-affected people in Syria and the region. The contribution will support WFP’s food assistance and livelihoods programs in Syria, as well as in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Since the crisis began, the GoJ has provided more than $88 million to support WFP’s emergency response for Syria.

During the April 4 to 5 Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region conference in Brussels, international donors pledged $6 billion to support development, humanitarian, and resilience activities for the Syria crisis response. In addition to the USG, other top donors included the GoG, the European Commission, the Government of the United Kingdom, and the Government of Canada, which pledged approximately $1.4 billion, $1.4 billion, $626 million, and $274 million, respectively.


Following the commencement of peaceful demonstrations against the SARG in March 2011, President Bashar al-Asad pledged legislative reforms. However, reforms failed to materialize, and SARG forces loyal to President al-Asad began responding to demonstrations with violence, leading armed opposition groups to retaliate.

At a November 2012 meeting in Doha, Qatar, Syrian opposition factions formed an umbrella organization—the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, also known as the Syrian Coalition (SC). The USG recognized the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people on December 11, 2012. On March 19, 2013, the SC established the Syrian Interim Government, which opposes the SARG and is based in decentralized locations throughout opposition-held areas of Syria.

On July 14, 2014, the UN Security Council adopted UNSCR 2165, authorizing UN cross-border and cross-line delivery of humanitarian aid to conflict-affected populations without SARG approval. The resolution permits the UN’s use of four border crossings from Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq—in addition to other crossings already in use by UN agencies—for delivery of humanitarian assistance into Syria. The resolution also establishes a monitoring mechanism under the authority of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and with the consent of the neighboring countries to ensure that deliveries across these border points contain only humanitarian items. The UNSC has subsequently adopted several resolutions renewing the mandate of UNSCR 2165, most recently in December 2016 with the adoption of UNSCR 2332, extending the authorities granted until January 2018.

Prior to the start of the conflict, UNRWA had registered approximately 560,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, with more than 80 percent living in and around Damascus. Intense fighting in and around some Palestinian camps and neighborhoods has significantly affected Palestinian refugees in Syria. UNRWA estimates that approximately 60 percent of Palestinian refugees are displaced within Syria, with a further 110,000 Palestinian refugees displaced to neighboring countries. Syria also hosts an estimated 24,000 Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers, primarily in the greater Damascus area, as well as more than 3,200 refugee persons of concern from other countries.


The most effective way people can assist relief efforts is by making cash contributions to humanitarian organizations that are conducting relief operations.

The USG encourages cash donations because they allow aid professionals to procure the exact items needed (often in the affected region); reduce the burden on scarce resources (such as transportation routes, staff time, and warehouse space); can be transferred very quickly and without transportation costs; support the economy of the disaster-stricken region; and ensure culturally, dietary, and environmentally appropriate assistance.

Giving Voice To Millions Of Americans – End US Wars Of Intervention

I recently met with President-elect Donald Trump to give voice to the millions of Americans, including my fellow veterans, who desperately want to end our country’s illegal, counterproductive war to overthrow the Syrian government. We had an hour-long, meaningful, back-and-forth discussion about the problems with current US policy in Syria and where to go from here.

I felt it critical to meet with him now, before warmongering neocons convince him to escalate this war that has already taken more than 400,000 lives and left millions of Syrians homeless and in search of safety for themselves and their families.

I conveyed to the president-elect how the post-9/11 neocon agenda of interventionism and regime change has left US foreign policy absurdly disconnected from our actual security interests. Our actions to overthrow secular dictators in Iraq and Libya, and attempts now to do the same in Syria, have resulted in tremendous loss of life, failed nations, and even worse humanitarian crises while strengthening the very terrorist organizations that have declared war on America.

Since 2011, the United States—working with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Turkey—has been providing support to “rebel groups” fighting to overthrow the government and take over Syria. A recent New York Times article reported that these “rebel groups” supported by the United States “have entered into battlefield alliances with the affiliate of Al Qaeda in Syria, formerly known as Al Nusra.” How the United States can work hand-in-hand with the very terrorist organization that is responsible for the killing of 3,000 Americans on 9/11 boggles my mind and curdles my blood.

This absurd alliance has allowed terrorist groups like Al Qaeda to establish strongholds throughout Syria, including in Aleppo, where they are now using the civilian population as human shields and their deaths as propaganda tools.

Additionally, escalating this regime-change war by implementing a “no-fly/safe zone” in Syria would not only be ineffective, it would put the United States in direct military confrontation with nuclear-power Russia, require tens of thousands of ground troops and a massive US air presence, and commit us to yet another endless war in the Middle East that does not serve American or Syrian interests.

In short, even if the US-Saudi alliance were successful in overthrowing the Syrian government, we would be saddled with the responsibility of building a new nation in Syria. Trillions of US taxpayer dollars, and who knows how many American lives, will be lost, and there will be little to show for it. As was true in Iraq and Libya, the United States has no credible government or leader able to bring order, security, and freedom to the people of Syria if Assad is overthrown. To maintain order after Assad’s fall would require at least 500,000 troops in a never-ending occupation.

The most likely outcome of this regime-change war is that it will open the door for ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups who are the most powerful fighting forces on the ground, to take over all of Syria, amass powerful weapons (many of which will have been provided to them by the United States), and pose a far worse threat to the Syrian people, religious minorities, and to the world.

The crux of my advice to President-elect Trump was this: We must end this ill-conceived, counterproductive regime-change war immediately. We must focus our precious resources on investing in and rebuilding our own country and on defeating Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist groups that pose a threat to the American people.

Refugee Crisis: Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

In this video released after terrorist attacks in Paris in 2016, John Oliver looks at how refugees and specifically those from Syria, can be admitted to the United States. 

He lists the steps:

  1. Apply through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (less than 1% end up being recommended for resettlement)
  2. Vetting process at the State Department including screenings through  the National Counter Terrorism Center, the FBI, and The Department of Homeland Security.
  3. If you are a Syrian Refugee. You get the “Syria Advanced Review”
  4. Interview with the USCIS offices and fingerprinted to run through the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense databases.
  5. Health screenings
  6. Enrolled in cultural information classes while your information is checked again.

Ultimately, Oliver argues that while there is no way to guarantee that a terrorist would not be able to somehow make it through this screening process, that risk is very low while the benefits for those refugees are very high. In reality, of the 784,000 people who have entered the United States, only 3 have been arrested for planning terrorist activities – Oliver jokes that more people in the U.S. are killed in cars, by peanuts, drowning, and by cows, than by refugees.


Ending The Syrian War

Syria is currently the world’s greatest humanitarian catastrophe and most dangerous geopolitical hotspot. The Syrian people are caught in a bloodbath, with more than 400,000 dead and ten million displaced.

Violent jihadist groups backed by outside patrons mercilessly ravage the country and prey on the population. All parties to the conflict – President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the anti-Assad forces supported by the United States and its allies, and the Islamic State – have committed, and continue to commit, serious war crimes.

It is time for a solution. But such a solution must be based on a transparent and realistic account of what caused the war in the first place.

The chronology is as follows. In February 2011, peaceful protests were staged in Syria’s major cities, amid the region-wide phenomenon dubbed the “Arab Spring.” The Assad regime reacted with a shifting mix of violent repression (shooting at demonstrators) and offers of reform. Soon, the violence escalated. Assad’s opponents accused the regime of using force against civilians without restraint, while the government pointed to the deaths of soldiers and policeman as evidence of violent jihadists among the protestors.

It seems likely that as early as March or April 2011, Sunni anti-regime fighters and arms started to enter Syria from neighboring countries. Many eyewitness accounts tell of foreign jihadists engaging in violent attacks on policemen. (Such accounts are, however, hard to confirm, especially after almost five years.)

The US and its regional allies tried to nudge Assad from power in the spring of 2011, thinking that he would fall quickly like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Many observers assert that Qatar funded an increase in anti-regime activity within Syria and used the Doha-based broadcaster Al Jazeera to boost anti-Assad sentiment worldwide, though such claims are hard to pin down definitively.

The US imposed a tightening noose of trade and financial sanctions on the regime. The Brookings Institution, a bellwether of US official policy, called for Assad’s ouster, and anti-Assad propaganda in the US media soared. (Until then, Assad was considered in the US media to be a relatively benign, albeit authoritarian, ruler, and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted as late as March 2011 that many in the US Congress regarded Assad as a reformer.)

The launch of the war can be dated to August 18, 2011, when President Barack Obama and Clinton declared that “Assad must go.” Up to that point, the violence was still containable. Total deaths, including both civilians and combatants, ran perhaps to around 2,900 (according to one tally by regime opponents).

After August, the death rate soared. It is sometimes claimed that the US did not act vigorously at this point. Obama’s political foes generally attack him for having taken too little action, not too much. But the US did in fact act to topple Assad, albeit mostly covertly and through allies, especially Saudi Arabia and Turkey (though neither country needed much prodding to intervene). The CIA and Saudi Arabia covertly coordinated their actions.

Of course, the chronology of the war does not explain it. For that, we need to examine the motivations of the key actors. First and foremost, the war in Syria is a proxy war, involving mainly the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran. The US and its allies, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, started the war in 2011 in order to overthrow Assad’s regime. The US alliance was met with escalating counterforce by Russia and Iran, whose Lebanese proxy army Hezbollah is fighting alongside Assad’s government.

The US interest in overthrowing Assad’s regime was precisely its reliance on Iranian and Russian backing. Removing Assad, US security officials believed, would weaken Iran, undermine Hezbollah, and roll back Russia’s geopolitical reach.

America’s allies, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, were interested in replacing Assad’s Alawite regime in Syria with a Sunni-led regime (Alawites are a branch of Shia Islam). This, they believed, would also weaken their regional competitor, Iran, and curtail Shia influence in the Middle East more generally.

In believing that Assad would be easily overthrown, the US – not for the first time – was relying on its own propaganda. The regime faced deep opposition, but also had considerable internal support. More important, the regime had powerful allies, notably Iran and Russia. It was naive to believe that neither would respond.

The public should appreciate the dirty nature of the CIA-led fight. The US and its allies flooded Syria with Sunni jihadists, just as the US had flooded Afghanistan in the 1980s with Sunni jihadists (the Mujahideen) that later became Al Qaeda. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and the US have regularly backed some of the most violent jihadist groups in a cynical miscalculation that these proxies would do their dirty work and then somehow be pushed aside.

According to the US and European mainstream media, Russia’s military intervention in Syria is treacherous and expansionist. The truth is different. The US is not allowed under the UN Charter to organize an alliance, fund mercenaries, and smuggle heavy weapons to overthrow another country’s government. Russia in this case is reacting, not acting. It is responding to US provocations against its ally.

Ending the war requires adherence to six principles. First, the US should cease both overt and covert operations to overthrow Syria’s government. Second, the UN Security Council should implement the ceasefire now under negotiation, calling on all countries, including the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and Iran, to stop arming and funding military forces within Syria.

Third, all paramilitary activities should cease, including those of so-called “moderates” backed by the US. Fourth, the US and Russia – and, indeed, the UN Security Council – should hold Syria’s government strictly responsible to desist from punitive actions against regime opponents. Fifth, the political transition should take place gradually and with confidence building on all sides, rather than through an arbitrary, destabilizing rush to “free elections.”

Finally, the Gulf States, Turkey, and Iran should be pressed to negotiate face to face on a regional framework that can ensure lasting peace. Arabs, Turks, and Iranians have all lived with each other for millennia. They, not the outside powers, should lead the way to a stable order in the region.