Trump walking back on US pledge to invest $200mn in Syria recovery – report
Over $200 million in US assistance for the war-ravaged country, promised by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in February, may never reach the liberated areas of Syria that have been left in ruins by seven years of a lingering conflict, which saw the Russian-supported Syrian government force and the US-backed rebels battling Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Qaeda affiliates.
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, citing US officials, Trump ordered the State Department to freeze the allotment of the funds after he came across a news report on Tillerson's pledge of financial support for Syria.
In his opening remarks at the meeting of the US-led anti-IS international coalition in February, Tillerson announced that Washington would provide "an additional $200 million to further support critical stabilization and early recovery initiatives in liberated areas of Syria."
This should have supplemented some $225 million that had already been designated by the State Department for that purposes. Tillerson revealed at the time that the US has spent "nearly $7.7 billion" on humanitarian assistance to Syria since the onset of the conflict, and it remains "the world's largest donor of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian crisis."
Speaking at the meeting, he further stressed the importance of the financial help to war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq to ensure that IS would not be able to snap back. "If communities in Iraq and Syria cannot return to normal life, we risk the return of conditions that allowed IS to take and control vast territory," he said.
The WSJ report, if confirmed to be true, would align well with a recent speech by the US president, during which he expressed frustration with the US habit of spending large sums of money in foreign assistance to little effect.
"We spent $7 trillion in the Middle East. We'd build a school; they'd blow it up. We'd build it again; they'd blow it up. We'd build it again; hasn't been blown up yet, but it will be," Trump said Friday, adding that for all that tremendous amount of money spent, the US gets effectively "nothing" in return.
During the same speech, he made a surprise announcement that US troops would leave Syria "very soon," implying that other countries should bear the burden of dealing with the dire humanitarian crisis.
"Let the other people take care of it now," Trump said.
What seems to be a new approach by the Trump administration on the Syrian issue represents a U-turn from the Syria strategy unveiled by Tillerson at the beginning of the year. The then-State Secretary said that the US has learned a lesson from its "premature departure" from Iraq, which was ordered by Barack Obama and left the country in tatters, allowing Al-Qaeda remnants to regroup and eventually merge with IS.
The Pentagon has said it conducted over 29,000 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq between August 2014 and the end of February 2018, which resulted in 855 civilian casualties. However, the figures are feared to be significantly higher, with the UK-based non-profit Airwars estimating that as many as 6,200 civilians have perished due to US-led coalition bombing raids.
In an interview with NBC's Megyn Kelly, Russian President Vladimir Putin described Iraq's Mosul as "razed to the ground" after being liberated by US-backed forces. He called for an investigation into similarly massive airstrikes in the Syrian city of Raqqa.