(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump has authorized the release of $6.6 million in funding to the humanitarian group the Syrian Civil Defense, commonly referred to as the White Helmets, according to the State Department.
“The United States government strongly supports the White Helmets who have saved more than 100,000 lives since the conflict began, including victims of Assad’s chemical weapons attacks,” a State Department statement read.
The funding will also benefit the United Nation’s International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM), which is responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in Syria.
The White Helmets, an all-volunteer group, have been lauded internationally for their lifesaving actions, rushing into bombing sites to evacuate citizens and provide medical care. They have ministered to the victims of Syrian President Bashar Assad government’s chemical weapons attacks, and they often become targets of Syrian and Russian airstrikes. Their efforts were chronicled in a critically acclaimed Netflix documentary.
In March, the administration froze more than $200 million in aid to Syria, including aid to the White Helmets, for “re-evaluation.” At the time, President Trump was blasting U.S. spending in the Middle East. At a March 29 infrastructure event in Ohio, Trump said U.S. troops would soon be coming out of Syria and that the U.S. should “let other people take care of it.”
There are currently approximately 2,000 U.S. service members in Syria, and there are dozens of United States Agency for International Development and State Department officials and contractors working on de-mining, rubble removal, and restoring water and electricity.
A State Department statement during the time that funding was frozen said the department continually re-evaluates appropriate assistance levels and how they are best utilized.
One State Department official defended the decision to freeze funding, telling ABC News that the U.S. “jointly supports the White Helmets with other donors, and we expect their operations to continue as a result of additional multilateral donors. The president has been clear that partners and allies should assume a larger role in stabilizing Syria.”
The White Helmets had received about $33 million from the U.S. at the time the funding was frozen. There are about 3,000 volunteers in the group.
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