The Trump administration is doubling down on backing the White Helmets, the self-proclaimed civil defense group with often controversial activity in militant-held areas of Syria, pledging a $5 million donation at a conference.
The contribution was announced by ambassador James Jeffrey, US special envoy to the anti-Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS) coalition, at the third Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region, held in Brussels.
The $5 million will fund both the “vital, life-saving operations” by the White Helmets and the work of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM), a UN body created in late 2016 to investigate – but not prosecute – alleged atrocities in Syria after 2011.
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As justification for the support, State Department spokesman Robert Palladino claimed the “heroic first responders” of the White Helmets have saved “more than 114,000” lives since the Syrian conflict began, including victims of “vicious chemical weapons attacks” the US is blaming on the Syrian government. Palladino’s statement, however, acknowledged that the group operates solely “in areas outside of the control of the regime.”
Though the Trump administration announced it would stop funding the White Helmets back in May 2018, it reversed course just a month later, sending $6.8 million to the group.
The Syrian government has repeatedly accused the White Helmets of being part of various Islamist rebel groups, while Russia has accused the group of staging alleged chemical attacks in order to provide pretexts for US military intervention in Syria.
Evidence of White Helmet involvement with anti-government militants and other abuses, such as organ harvesting and endangering children, was presented to the UN in December.
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