UK cuts funding for Syrian opposition group claimed to be under jihadist control
Operational funding to the Free Syrian Police Force (FSP) is to stop in September, with government sources, cited in the Guardian, admitting the Access to Justice and Community Service (AJACS) program has become too difficult to deliver.
A former foreign correspondent for the Guardian, Jonathan Steele, told RT that while the group, largely based in the northern opposition-held Idlib province, was unarmed, they still carried out “patrols,” adding that “they got equipment and salaries from the British government.”
While humanitarian support is set to continue, all operation assistance will stop. Steele stated that the UK had provided the FSP with “training and tactical support,” adding that “some of the training was happening in Turkey.”
Britain’s aid spending in 2017-18 has been estimated at £152 million (US$194 million), a third of which has been delivered to Idlib province, on the Turkish border. The area, where the FSP operates, is a stronghold of the Al-Qaeda proxy group Al-Nusra Front, now rebranded as Tahrir al-Sham.
The Foreign Office and the Department for International Development (DfiD) denied that the move had anything with the BBC’s revelations in December 2017 – that the FSP were under the control of Al-Nusra Front.
The BBC Panorama program, titled ‘Jihadis You Pay For’, claimed FSP officers in Idlib province had to be approved by Al-Nusra.
After the program’s broadcast, the Foreign Office suspended access to the AJACS scheme for the FSP. A DfID source, cited in the Guardian, stated that the defunding decision had nothing to do with Panorama's claims.
Following the defunding of the FSP, Steele said the UK is “not funding very much now I think, this was quite a large part of their budget, though the White Helmets are funded still, both in terms of salaries and equipment. They’re in a limited number of areas because obviously the opposition doesn’t control much of Syria anymore.”
Steele stated that Britain is “following the lead of the Americans,” who have also cut back their support for Syrian opposition groups. “Britain are doing the same, I think in part it’s genuinely to save money, but at the back of their minds it’s the realisation that these groups have no real future, they’ve lost the war, it’s just a matter of time before they’re completely defeated. So it’s pouring money down a drain.”
On Friday, the US announced the end of its funding for Syria stabilization projects, citing increased contributions from its allies. The move comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin called for Europe to pledge funds to help rebuild Syria, as the civil war finally looks like it’s coming to an end.
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