Press Room

US aid to Syrian opposition should include training on civilian protection

WASHINGTON DC – Following Thursday's announcement of non-lethal US support to Syria's opposition, including technical assistance for civilian security, Center for Civilians in Conflict released the following statement.

Sarah Holewinski, Executive Director, Center for Civilians in Conflict said:

“US technical assistance to the Syrian opposition on civilian security should include good civilian protection and security practices. This seems obvious, but training on practical ways to protect civilians is often overlooked in situations like these and can save lives.

“We interviewed opposition fighters in Syria and found an urgent need for training on international law and, beyond the letter of the law, how to practically avoid civilians and protect them in the midst of intense fighting. Many fighters joined the opposition to protect their communities, now they need the tools to do so responsibly.

“If the goal of this US assistance is to build the legitimacy of the opposition among the people, Syrians need to see a unified force that is there to protect them, not cause additional harm. They need to know that their lives are valued. The United States has years of hard earned experience of trying to avoid civilians and respond to harm in Afghanistan. Those lessons should be shared with Syria's armed opposition.

Specifically, technical assistance should focus on the often difficult task of distinguishing between civilians and combatants, how to protect the force without involving civilians and their property, the creation of a coherent chain of command, how to respectfully respond to civilian harm, and future planning for victims needs post-conflict. Giving the opposition these practical skills and building a civilian protection mindset should be prioritized by the United States." 

For more information:

Center for Civilians in Conflict convened an expert roundtable to consider foreign military involvement in Syria, specifically through a civilian harm mitigation lens. The five options included: training and equipping the armed opposition; conducting limited airstrikes; deploying Patriot batteries around Syria; creating no-fly and no-drive zones; and deploying an international security force post-conflict.  Read the outcomes and analysis here.

Our issue brief on Civilian Protection in Syria provides interviews with civilians and fighters in Syria and neighboring countries, analysis of the civilian protection mindset of the armed opposition, and recommendations for governments and others considering providing weapons to the rebels.


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