The situation in Syria remains extremely fragile. An estimated 400,000 people have been killed since the war began six years ago, many of them innocent civilians. The Asad regime continues to use the most barbaric military methods and tactics available, including the use of indiscriminate artillery fire, chemical weapons and barrel bombs. The UK remains committed to doing all it can to promote a political settlement to end the conflict, to alleviate the humanitarian suffering, and to protect UK national security through countering terrorist and extremist threats.
In November 2015, my predecessor, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, issued Written Ministerial Statements setting out our plans to give equipment and training to groups selected from the Moderate Armed Opposition’s (MAO) Southern Front, creating a Border Force and Casualty Evacuation capability in Opposition controlled areas of southern Syria. The Southern Front Border Force (SF-BFOR) working together with other MAO groups and in coordination with the Jordanian Authorities, has interdicted Jordanian citizens illegally entering Syria. They have also stopped smugglers carrying money, weapons and narcotics from Syria to Jordan, and Daesh fighters attempting to carry weapons, explosives and money in and out of the besieged area of the Yarmouk Basin. The Southern Front Casualty Evacuation capability (CASEVAC) capability is designed to provide vital medical support to the MAO and has, to date, established and equipped three medical teams with a command and control element attached to each. Primarily designed to support MAO fighters, they have provided treatment to over 100 injured MAO personnel in recent fighting in Dera’a City. These teams have also provided treatment to civilians wounded in the fighting often working alongside the Syrian Civil Defence. Other international donors have contributed to both initiatives.
The UK intends to continue its support to these programmes by providing targeted operational equipment – for patrolling and observation, and for provision of medical care to wounded fighters – as well as building the command and control capacity. We will give £3,438,338.54 in equipment to SF-BFOR and £2,779,970.30 in equipment to the CASEVAC medical units. For SF-BFOR the list of equipment includes: vehicles; day/night observation aids; communications equipment; metal and line detecting equipment to find and avoid improvised explosive devices; uniforms; and combined load carrying/protective vests. The list of equipment for the CASEVAC medical units includes: vehicles; communications equipment; medical treatment equipment; uniforms; and load carrying/protective vests. We expect to spend a total of £10 million this financial year on both programmes of support.
The use of these funds to cover the costs of the programme has been approved by the Syria Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) Board, the Middle East North Africa CSSF Regional Board and Operations Committee. The equipment has been scrutinised to ensure that the provision of this equipment is consistent with export controls and complies with our international obligations. Recipients have been carefully selected and vetted to prevent equipment being given to those involved in extremist activities or human rights abuses. All equipment transfers are approved by HMG immediately before delivery. All our assistance is carefully calibrated and legal, is aimed at alleviating human suffering and supporting moderate groups and is regularly monitored and evaluated. We monitor the situation on the ground carefully.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords