In a gesture to mark the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, President Obama has approved of an additional $125 million in humanitarian and food aid to be sent to Syria. Including the new aid package, the amount of money the United States has sent to Syria has now reached the $1 billion mark since the start of hostilities two years ago.
The additional aid also coincides with recent approval a few weeks ago of supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels through a program headed by the Central Intelligence Agency. The new humanitarian aid will cover food and medical supplies for those in Syria affected by the conflict in addition to food vouchers and ready-to-eat meals for the 245,000 Syrians in refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt.
What is more significant from a geopolitical perspective is the recent approval of sending light arms to the rebel forces. Humanitarian aid is one thing, but actually arming opposition forces is quite another. With reports emerging that the Saudis and other Gulf states are arming the rebels as well, the introduction of U.S.-supplied arms is a significant game-changer.
The danger in arming the rebels is, of course, that we don't know where the arms will actually end up. The Syrian opposition is comprised of so many conflicting groups it is almost impossible to know where exactly the weapons are headed. Groups like the Al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front have actually been blacklisted by the United Nations, and in spite of this branding they have emerged as one of the strongest groups among the opposition ranks.
The decision to send arms to Syria is no coincidence. President Assad's forces have been gaining ground as of late, and while the fighting is far from over, the government forces have the upper hand as well as control over the majority of the territory. Washington is hoping that between itself, the Gulf states, and Turkey (whose borderlands with Syria have been used for rebel bases), they can, by continuing to arms the rebels, shift momentum to their side and eventually force Assad to, at minimum, the negotiation table.
Naturally, this could very well backfire on the U.S., regardless of the result. Lose, and over $1 billion would have been wasted while Assad consolidates his position. Win, and Syria faces an unknown future that will more likely than not reflect that of Iraq and Libya. Not to mention the number of arms that will fall into the hands of groups such as al-Qaeda and al-Nusra, which, as history has taught us time and time again, will come back and haunt the United States.