Rear Admiral Gregory Smith (L), director of the Multi-National Force – Iraq’s Communications Division, and Denise Herbol, deputy director of USAID – Iraq, in Baghdad January 13, 2008. REUTERS/Wathiq Khuzaie/Pool
After helping coordinate the American civilian aid efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya, Mark Ward arrived in Turkey last year to oversee the Obama administration’s effort to provide non-lethal assistance to Syria’s rebels. Unwilling to provide arms, Washington hoped to strengthen the Syrian Opposition Coalition. Led by moderates, the group was seen as a potential counterweight to jihadists.
Ward, a 57-year-old senior official in the U.S. Agency for International Development, had seen the successes and failures of similar post- September 11 programs. He was determined to get it right in Syria
On one level, Ward and his colleagues have succeeded. Over the last year, more than $500 million in American assistance helped feed Syrian families, provide acute medical care and get civilians through a harrowing winter. More than 600 Syrian activists, from different religious and ethnic groups, underwent training and received generators, computers and communications equipment.
Washington’s fear of any American aid inadvertently ending up in the hands of extremists, though, limited the effort. Every Syrian who received aid had to produce their Syrian national identity card, answer detailed questions about their background and have their names run through a U.S. terrorism database. And in the hope of preventing aid recipients from experiencing retaliation by the Assad regime, little of the U.S. assistance was labeled.