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Syrian civil defence volunteers attempting to put out a fire in Idlib province. Photo: Amer Alhamwe/AFP/Getty Images

The State Department is cutting funding to stabilization programs in northwest Syria, two State Department officials tell Axios. The decision follows a review undertaken at President Trump's request and was made by "Department leadership in consultation with the interagency," a U.S. official told Axios.

What it means: The cuts are to counter violent extremism, civil society, and governance programs. "It's basically cutting losses at this point" since Assad and rebel forces have the northwest region encircled, Melissa Dalton, a former Pentagon official, tells Axios. But things could get much dicier for groups on the ground following the cut.

What happens now:

  • These programs will now go through a "phase-out" over the "coming months," per one official. All existing financial commitments will be upheld.
  • The U.S. will refocus its stabilization efforts in areas liberated from ISIS, and shift resources to its efforts to defeat ISIS in northeast Syria, per one official.

The impact: Things could get more dangerous in northwest Syria, Dalton said.

  • For Assad, Iran, and Russia: “Some amount of U.S. support to actors in that region arguably has served as a bit of a deterrent to Assad,” Dalton said. It “will also send a signal to Assad and his backers that they can likely go ahead and attack,” per Dalton.
  • For terrorists: It “makes it that much easier for more well-funded violent extremist groups,” to become more powerful in northwest Syria, according to Dalton.
  • For refugees: The Europeans who have a stake in Syria will likely be affected, too, potentially "because of spillover" of refugees, Dalton said. "You’re likely going to get another pulsation of refugees as a result of that conflict pushing out of that area."

Follow the money:

  • State spent $200 million on stabilization efforts in Syria last year and set aside $225 million this year. State put that funding in a freeze late this March, upon direction from the White House, per the WSJ. The changes to funding for northwest Syria are "distinct from that amount," per one State Department official.
  • The State Department is still reviewing other assistance programs in Syria at the president’s request, per one official.
  • In total the U.S. has given almost $900 million in non-lethal and stabilization assistance since 2012.
  • Other partners that provide funding to Syria could, in theory, step up to fill the gaps in funding that may result. State Department officials "are looking to other donors to share this burden and provide additional support" in Syria, one official said.

One official told Axios: “We remain committed to countering ISIS and al-Qa’ida, in Syria and elsewhere. We will continue to provide life-saving, needs based, humanitarian assistance to vulnerable Syrians, including those in northwest Syria.”

Go deeper

Updated 29 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Swastikas found outside Union Station in D.C.

People walk through Union Station on Jan. 16 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Drawings of swastikas appeared etched around the entrance to Union Station in Washington, D.C., on Friday morning.

Driving the news: "An investigation is underway with Amtrak Police and the Metropolitan Police Department after swastikas were reported on the exterior of Washington Union Station on Friday," Amtrak spokesperson Kimberly Woods said in a statement to Axios.

In photos: Biden visits collapsed bridge in Pittsburgh

President Biden and the Mayor of Pittsburgh Ed Gainey visit the scene of the Forbes Avenue Bridge collapse over Fern Hollow Creek in Frick Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 28, 2022. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Friday visited the site of the collapsed bridge in Pittsburgh.

Driving the news: "I’ve been coming to Pittsburgh a long time,” Biden said, adding that there are more bridges than any other city in the world. "And we’re going to fix them all," he said, per a White House pool reporter.