By Jill Dougherty
The United States will provide an additional $60 million in nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition over the coming months, Secretary of State John Kerry announced Thursday.
"The United States' decision to take further steps now is the result of the continued brutality of a superior armed force propped up by foreign fighters from Iran and Hezbollah, all of which threatens to destroy Syria," he said.
Kerry announced the aid after he met with Syria's national opposition coalition leader, Moaz Al-Khatib, in Rome.
"This funding will allow the opposition to reach out and help the local councils to be able to rebuild in their liberated areas of Syria so that they can provide basic services to people who so often lack access today to medical care, to food, to sanitation," he said.
Kerry also announced that the United States will look for opportunities to work with the Supreme Military Council to provide nonlethal support to the Free Syrian Army. It will include things such as military rations to feed fighters and supplies for the wounded.
The aid, in the form of goods and services, will be used to enhance the capacity of the national opposition coalition and the local councils to extend the rule of law, and establish interim justice as needed in newly liberated territories, officials said.
"Syrians who share our values need to demonstrate that they can deliver a better day and need to set an example of a Syria where daily life is governed neither by the brutality of the Assad regime, nor by the agenda of al Qaeda-affiliated extremists," a senior state department official said before Kerry's remarks.
The aid is designed to allow the opposition to show what can be accomplished, to set an example "if those still supporting (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad will peel away from him and will change their calculation, stop the fight and begin supporting a true transition," the official said.
The goal is to meet the needs of Syrians in territory held by the rebels through the main opposition group in hopes of keeping extremists from filling that void of basic needs.
"If the Syrian opposition coalition can't touch, improve and heal the lives of Syrians in those places that have been freed, then extremists will step in and do it," the official said.
The United States will send technical advisers through implementing partners to support the opposition group's staff at its Cairo headquarters to execute the assistance. This will assure that it meets the United States' requirements for foreign assistance, including vetting, oversight and monitoring.
This $60 million is in addition to the $50 million in nonlethal support the United States is providing to the opposition coalition.
Additionally, CNN reported Wednesday, the Obama administration is considering providing more nonlethal military equipment that could assist the Syrian rebels in combat, including night vision goggles, body armor and military vehicles.
Kerry did not announce that element of aid, but the official who briefed reporters said the opposition has raised a lot of needs in the Rome meetings and the administration will continue to "keep those under review."
"We will do this with vetted individuals, vetted units, so it has to be done carefully and appropriately," the official said.