On Saturday 2 December, Vanessa Beeley published an exposé, based on research in Syria, of how the UK government appears to have been financing terrorists. On Sunday 3rd December, The Guardian ran a story saying that reports of UK money reaching terrorists in Syria are exaggerated. The Guardian tells us that allegations of funds going via the Foreign Office to Al Nusra ‘have been described as “entirely inaccurate and misleading” by Adam Smith International (ASI)‘. That company is a key source cited in this regard by the Guardian, and the company is certainly in a position to know, given its role in disbursing such funds.
In March this year, the Guardian reported that the same company, having ‘been entrusted with £450m in development cash since 2011, had tried to profiteer by exploiting leaked department documents. It was also heavily criticised for trying to “unduly influence” a parliamentary inquiry by engineering “letters of appreciation” from beneficiaries of its projects.’ The Guardian further noted that the Commons international development committee ‘said ASI’s actions were “deplorable”, “entirely inappropriate” and showed a “serious lack of judgment”.’ While the company took certain steps in response, the UK’s Department for International Development ‘said ASI’s problems were “fundamental and will not be solved with quick fixes”.‘
Serious questions therefore have to be asked about the funding sent by this route to Syria, and also about its purpose. Such questions are due to be aired today, Monday 4 December, on BBC’s Panorama programme Jihadis You Pay For. The programme promises to reveal, from ‘hundreds of leaked documents … the shocking truth about one of the government’s flagship foreign aid projects’. It will reveal how ‘cash has ended up in the hands of extremists and how an organisation we are funding supports a brutal justice system.’
Meanwhile, Andrew Mitchell MP, the former international development secretary, ‘warned against the BBC jumping on an “anti-aid bandwagon” and not taking into account the risks and difficulties faced’ by those trying to maintain order in areas held by opposition forces.
The innocent reader could be forgiven for wondering how the provision of funds to terrorists could come under the umbrella of ‘aid’ or ‘development’ in the first place. The Foreign Office tells us that this sort of scheme is “intended to make communities in Syria safer by providing basic civilian policing services”. Without entering into detailed consideration of the character of law and justice as administered by the ‘Free Syrian Police’ (FSP), it suffices to note Mitchell’s own admission that ‘it was inevitable the FSP would come into contact with extremist groups’, and yet he maintains ‘that complexity should not deter the UK from involvement.’
‘Complexity’, of course, is quite a euphemism, judging by the findings from Syria that have been relayed by Beeley. But the admission of the former minister is itself telling enough as, in effect, he seems to be saying: don’t expect the recipients of UK funding not to be connected with terrorists.
Meanwhile, another question that might be asked is whether ‘aid’ is really even the ostensible objective. For the Foreign Office (quoted by the Guardian) seems to offer a different rationale: “We believe that such work in Syria is important to protect our national security interest”. Exactly how funding a police force allied with terrorists in a foreign land protects UK security interests is a mystery. One might anticipate that the contrary could be the case, as a number of us suggested earlier this year.
It rather seems that those defending the UK government’s policy here are in damage limitation mode in the face of the growing exposure of what is really happening on the ground in ‘rebel-held’ areas of Syria.
If only efforts could instead be deployed in avoiding and remedying the severe damage that the UK has been complicit in inflicting on the people of Syria. Perhaps as the inconsistencies in official narratives become increasingly apparent to an ever wider public, we can hope that the taxes we pay may yet be redirected to more constructive ends.