US freezes aid to Syrian humanitarian group

The Syrian humanitarian group known as the "white helmets" has done extraordinary work in saving lives during the seven-year-old civil war.  When you see a picture of a building that's been bombed, you are likely to see the ubiquitous white-helmeted aid workers sifting through the rubble for survivors.

There's no doubt the group performs courageously under hazardous conditions.  So why is the U.S. cutting off aid to the white helmets?

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert has previously called the White Helmets "selfless men" and asked journalists to watch a documentary about their work.  But the State Department did not respond to a CBS News inquiry earlier this week about which programs are still receiving funding, and the date for when certain programs will lose their funding. 

President Trump put a freeze on the $200 million in U.S. funding for recovery efforts in Syria in late March.  This freeze means that U.S. support for the White Helmets is not the only project in jeopardy.  There are also many other stabilization efforts that are backed by the U.S. – including the clearing of explosive devices, bringing back electricity, rebuilding schools, and getting water running – that may end soon. ...

"The amount of U.S. support is very limited but it is better than nothing, so if that will stop, that will be a disaster.  After ISIS they started to open the schools and if money stops, that will be done," said a senior member of the Deir ez-Zor city council.  "Without education the people only have ISIS ideas."

Trump wants to pressure other countries to increase their humanitarian contributions to Syria.  The so-called "donor conference" in Brussels resulted in a lot of grandiose pledges, but, as usual, the results were meager.  Some countries count normal trade with Syria as part of their "contribution," so what ends up in the pockets of aid organizations is almost always less than promised.

That leaves the United States to pick up the slack.  Note the city council member warning against creating terrorists if they don't get U.S. money.  That sort of blackmail should be resisted and aid disbursed based on need, not political maneuvering.

Since 2011, the U.S. has poured $7.7 billion into Syrian humanitarian relief.  That's twice what anyone else has contributed.  It's about time the rest of the world stop talking and start paying to save lives in the worst humanitarian disaster of the 21st century.

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