The Trump Administration has frozen funding of Syria’s civil defense organization The White Helmets.
In April, Donald Trump suspended $200 million of US funds for stabilization efforts in northern Syria, amid his call for withdrawal of US forces from the country. The Pentagon has pushed back any steps for withdrawal, but Trump’s desire to cut US financial support in Syria — covered by his request to Saudi Arabia to provide $4 billion — appears to have spread into the backing of the civil defense efforts that have saved more than 100,000 lives since 2013, according to the Syria Campaign.
In March, the State Department hosted White Helmets members in Washington, praising the organization’s work.
“Our meetings in March were very positive. There were even remarks from senior officials about long-term commitments even into 2020. There were no suggestions whatsoever about stopping support,” Raed Saleh said.
But now the State Department says the support is “under active review”. An internal Department document said it must have confirmation from the Administration to green-light funding by April 15 or it will initiate “shut-down procedures on a rolling basis”.
The document also referred to Trump’s suspension of stablization efforts in areas taken by a US-supported, Kurdish-led force from the Islamic State. It said notification is needed by April 6 to continue programs that focus on removing land mines, restoring essential services, and providing food to moderate forces and their families or those programs would also have to be shut down.
The issue of the White Helmets came up in mid-April, as news of Trump’s suspension of stablization funds circulated. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert praised the volunteers’ “incredible work” in rescue and recovery efforts — an “incredible group of individuals” — but said she had no more information, although she said that “bills were still being paid” and that she had not seen the document requiring confirmation of Administration support by April 15.
The US has provided about a third of the funding of the 3,000 White Helmets volunteer rescuers.
The White Helmets leadership has received no formal declaration of a halt in funding, but local volunteers report a cut-off and resort to an emergency plan to cover the next month or two.
“If this is a long-term or permanent halt, it would have a serious impact on our ability to provide the same intensity and quality of services that we currently provide to civilians,” said Saleh.