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Never Mind the Guns, Half of Syria’s ‘Non-Lethal’ Aid Is Stuck on U.S. Shelves

Lost in last week’s news that the Obama administration would begin to provide direct military aid to the Syrian opposition was the fact that about half of the non-lethal aid promised months ago has still not arrived. That’s raised some question as to how long it will take any new military aid to reach the ...

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Syrian residents take goods from a truck which rebels captured at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey on July 20, 2012, near Aleppo. Syrian rebels seized control of the Bab Al-Hawa border post with Turkey today after a fierce battle with Syrian troops, an AFP photographer at the scene reported. Some 150 armed rebel fighters were in control of the post, which lies opposite Turkey's Cilvegozu border crossing in the southern province of Hatay. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Lost in last week's news that the Obama administration would begin to provide direct military aid to the Syrian opposition was the fact that about half of the non-lethal aid promised months ago has still not arrived.

That's raised some question as to how long it will take any new military aid to reach the fractured country.

Administration officials acknowledge that only some of the aid promised the Syrian opposition this spring has arrived in the country. They cite Congressional notifications, the need to vet recipients on the other end, and the more mundane necessity to obtain and then ship the supplies they plan to send as the hold up.

Lost in last week’s news that the Obama administration would begin to provide direct military aid to the Syrian opposition was the fact that about half of the non-lethal aid promised months ago has still not arrived.

That’s raised some question as to how long it will take any new military aid to reach the fractured country.

Administration officials acknowledge that only some of the aid promised the Syrian opposition this spring has arrived in the country. They cite Congressional notifications, the need to vet recipients on the other end, and the more mundane necessity to obtain and then ship the supplies they plan to send as the hold up.

Gear like vehicles, medical supplies, communications equipment and night vision goggles – all key to helping to give the Syrian military opposition the upper hand once again – are all part of the assistance plan.

The State Deparment is working with the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the Syrian Military Coalition on the aid but that there isn’t any specific timeline, a spokesman for State told FP. "The process can take from several weeks to several months," he said.

"We want to establish channels that any assistance we deploy is done so in a manner that reaches those in need and is done so in accordance with our assistance regulations."

Approximately $127 million of aid is in the process of being delivered. Another $123 million, announced by Secretary of State John Kerry April 20 in Istanbul, is still undergoing Congressional notification processes, the spokesman said. State has already coordinated the shipment of 202,000 Meals, Ready to Eat, 529 medical kits and three tons of medical supplies that all fall under a $10 million contribution Kerry also announced in April.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Tony Cordesman acknowledged that shipping aid to the military opposition is difficult to begin with. The supply chain can be problematic, the end user may not be trustworthy and transiting material into a country amid a civil war can cause delay. And, logistics people all have "hoarding tendencies," he said.

"Pick any of the above, or any combination of the above, and all of that can happen," he said.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Monday was asked if Syrian Opposition Leader Gen. Salim Idris will become the focal point for all military and humanitarian aid. Psaki said a lot of the aid is contributed through the coordinating body that Syrian Opposition Coalition. "That’s where it’s gone," Psaki said. "Now, the next tranche of aid, the $123 million that’s been in the process of being notified to Congress, part of that will go to the [Syrian Military Council] directly," she said. "The size of how much will go to the SMC directly is part of what’s being discussed with Congress."

Last week, Ben Rhodes, deputy National Security Adviser for Communications, said aid to the Syrian opposition includes increased support to the Syrian Opposition Coalition, "but it also includes the provision of assistance to the Supreme Military Council in Syria," he told reporters. "And so we are focused right now on strengthening the effectiveness of the SMC and helping to coordinate the provision of the assistance to the SMC by the United States and other partners and allies." 

Cordesman said the idea of "non-lethal aid," like night vision goggles, for example, give the military opposition a capability to kill that they don’t otherwise possess – so the term "non-lethal aid" is, to him, an oxymoron.

"If you’re having problems with lethal non-lethal aid, just imagine the kinds of problems you’re going to have with lethal-lethal aid," Cordesman said.

Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children. Twitter: @glubold

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