As the civil war in Syria continues with no end in sight — leaving a country with little hope for the future — it is more important than ever for the United States to continue helping and empowering Syrian rebels fight the regime, a State Department official said Monday.
As widespread violence and protests continue in the country, children can’t go to school, millions are displaced from their homes and few can sustain jobs or any semblance of a regular lifestyle, said Win Dayton, director of the department’s conflict and stabilization operations.
“The uncertainty of the future fuels a cancer for the whole country,” Dayton said Monday after speaking privately to faculty members at TCU. “It’s clear that what a lot of people saw as a six- to 12-month conflict is now a multi-year civil war.
“It’s going to get worse before it gets worse,” he said. “American assistance is having an impact, but it’s going to be a long civil war.”
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Dayton has seen firsthand the impact the violence has had on Syrians since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began more than three years ago.
Secretary of State John Kerry recently said he and representatives from nearly a dozen other nations are determined to change “the dynamics on the ground in Syria.”
The United States has sent more than $1.7 billion to Syria since the conflict began. Many people have expressed frustration that humanitarian aid doesn’t seem to be getting to the Syrian people.
The U.S. and its allies continue trying to guide needed dollars to help the opposition there, which is not just fighting forces loyal to Assad but also al Qaeda-affiliated groups gaining control of more areas in the country, Dayton said.
That money is being spent on “nonlethal” assistance including programs to help opposition groups communicate with one another, police programs and funding to help independent media deliver messages in Syria, Dayton said.
“It is all designed to give them more capacity and more ability,” he said.
New estimates place the war’s death toll in Syria at more than 160,000, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based activist group.
About a third of the dead, more than 50,000, are believed to be civilians, including more than 8,500 children and more than 5,500 women. The tally is also estimated to include more than 37,000 Syrian soldiers and 26,000 rebel fighters.
This month, forces loyal to Assad forced rebels out of Homs, the third-largest city in Syria, and now those forces appear to be moving forward, trying to flush rebels out of other areas.
Some fear that the opposition faces an impossible battle; according to media reports, the regime is using airstrikes and bombings in its renewed attack on rebels and activists.
A presidential election is scheduled for June 3 and will for the first time in decades include names other than Assad — either Bashar Assad or his father, Hafez Assad.
Bashar Assad will face Maher Abdel Hafiz Hajjar and Hassan Abdallah al-Nouri in the election, which he is expected to win handily.
“The election is regarded as a farce,” Dayton said. “It’s an exercise with Assad for self-legitimization. It will not persuade people he’s a legitimate ruler. The rest of the world should ignore it.”