Obama administration to brief lawmakers on aid for Syria rebels

The Obama administration will brief lawmakers on where the $60 million in aid to Syrian opposition forces announced by Secretary of State John Kerry last month is going.

President Obama's ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, will brief the House Appropriations subpanel on foreign operations in a closed session on Wednesday. Sources on the panel say Ford, who was recalled to Washington two years ago because of safety concerns, will give House appropriators a rundown of Kerry's meeting with the Syrian opposition last week and where the money he promised them will go. 

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Kerry promised $60 million for “nonlethal assistance” in the form of direct food and medicine aid to the rebels after meeting with opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib in Rome on Feb. 28. He said at the time that he looked forward to “working with the United States Congress” in making the aid available.

But the decision angered lawmakers who said the State Department had left them in the dark about the decision to provide direct aid to rebel forces seeking the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The leaders of Capitol Hill’s foreign policy committees told The Hill they had not been briefed ahead of Kerry’s announcement.

A committee staffer said Ford is expected to "share his thoughts on the way forward" in Syria and brief members on how the recently announced aid "is being used and the needs that might arise."

In announcing the decision in late February, Kerry had said the funding would allow “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 often lack access today to medical care, to food, to sanitation.”

“This includes helping Syrians preserve institutions of state, which are critical to enabling a future transition in Syria itself, and also to helping those who work within them, those without blood on their hands, to be able to continue to do their important humanitarian work,” he added.

The aid decision also invited criticism from GOP hawks led by Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) who said it was insufficient and urged the White House to also provide opposition fighters with weapons.

Kerry’s announcement came after Syrian opposition forces almost skipped a meeting out of anger that the Obama administration isn't doing enough to assist them. The opposition leaders, though, were persuaded to attend by Ford. 

The aid is on top of a previously announced $385 million in humanitarian aid and more than $50 million to help the Syrian activists “organize opposition efforts across the country” by improving their ability to communicate with each other and to broadcast a “message of hope across their country.”