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Rukban “Operation Syrian Oasis” Q&A

Operation Syrian Oasis
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1- How long has Rukban camp been under siege?

Rukban camp, a shelter for internally displaced persons (IDPs) located on the southern Syrian border with Iraq and Jordan, has been under siege since its establishment in 2014. The camp has faced significant challenges in accessing essential resources such as food, water, and aid. The Assad regime’s restrictions have severely limited humanitarian assistance, with the last UN aid convoy permitted to enter Rukban taking place in 2019. As a result, between 2016 and 2023, the camp’s population decreased from 80,000 to just 8,000 people—with children and women making up the majority. 

In 2014, Rukban became a haven for Syrian civilians forcibly displaced from their homes due to the brutality of the Assad regime and ISIS. They have been accused of being terrorists and criminals by the Assad regime, yet they are simply civilians fleeing violence and opposing Assad’s rule. 

2- Has any other organization delivered aid since the UN’s last aid delivery in 2019? 

While limited aid has been smuggled into Rukban, the Assad regime has allowed no official organization to make substantial aid deliveries in years. 

The Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF) has been the sole humanitarian organization providing sustained aid to the IDPs in Rukban. SETF operates the Hope Pharmacy, a no-cost pharmacy that serves as the camp’s only consistent source of essential medicines and life-saving supplies. The pharmacy is stocked with medicine, baby formula, and treatments for children to combat the high child mortality rate in the camp. SETF’s presence has been crucial to the survival of Rukban’s residents, serving over 80% of the camp’s population. 

Additionally, in August 2022, the Molham Volunteer Team launched the #SaveRukbanCamp campaign, providing bread and drinking water to the residents.

3- Has the U.S. military been involved in previous deliveries of supplies to Rukban, considering its control of al-Tanf? Is the current involvement of the US military in Rukban a new occurrence?

The involvement of US troops stationed at al-Tanf in the situation at the Rukban camp has been significantly limited over the years. While they have supported basic humanitarian projects through intermediaries in the camp, the US has generally avoided direct involvement except for providing medical care in exceptionally rare situations. All US administrations have primarily relied on the UN process, which requires permission from the Assad regime in Damascus, rather than providing direct humanitarian aid to Rukban. In March 2022, US lawmakers urged the administration to leverage its position in al-Tanf to assist Rukban, citing international law obligations to help civilians within the “deconfliction zone” maintained by US troops.

Even though the Department of Defense (DoD) didn’t fund or organize Operation Syrian Oasis, it chose to publicly highlight its involvement due to the operation’s groundbreaking nature. This operation marked a significant milestone as it was the first time the Denton Humanitarian Aid Program was utilized to facilitate multiple aid deliveries using US military aircraft. Notably, this operation also stood out because there had been no previous large-scale aid delivery to the camp in years, particularly considering that US troops at al-Tanf had primarily avoided involvement in the Rukban siege.

4- How did the Syrian Emergency Task Force break the siege? 

After years of tireless efforts, the SETF team successfully funded, organized, and executed “Operation Syrian Oasis” by utilizing the US Denton Program. The Denton Humanitarian Assistance Program enables private U.S. organizations like the Syrian Emergency Task Force to use space available on U.S. military cargo planes to transfer and deliver substantial amounts of aid to places such as the Rukban camp. 

The Syrian Emergency Task Force lobbied for this aid operation for two years. When SETF first applied for the Denton Program, Syria was not among the countries eligible for the program. But the SETF team continued to advocate tirelessly for residents of Rukban until Syria was added. To read more about our work on this operation, visit the New York Times coverage of the story.

Operation Syrian Oasis marked the first time any U.S. organization utilized the Denton Program and made the largest aid delivery to Rukban in years. 

Additionally, SETF has been in direct contact with the residents of the camp, farmers, teachers, and councils in the camp for years. Through our relations with the people on the ground, we were able to evaluate the needs of residents and decide on our initial aid deliveries accordingly. EX: Residents requested seeds and irrigation tools to be able to sustain themselves instead of just food.

5- Are the deliveries of aid through the US military to Rukban hindered by the availability of convoys and the lack of storage infrastructure, particularly for food?

While the delivery of aid through US troops at al-Tanf depends on available space, it is essential to acknowledge that any logistical challenges should not be attributed to the military or the dedicated NGOs working tirelessly to assist the affected residents.

The primary responsibility for these constraints lies with the Assad regime, which has consistently hindered alternative routes and worsened the situation since 2014.

Despite the presence of Assad, Iran, and Russia in the vicinity of the camp, the SETF remains committed to providing assistance until a political resolution to the siege is presented.

5- Is Operation Syrian Oasis sustainable?

Operation Syrian Oasis depends on two factors: the involvement of the Denton Program and private individual donations. The operation was fully funded by individual contributions, and as long as generous donations continue, more deliveries can be funded. If you would like to support this operation, please consider making a donation. 

SETF will continue to work with the U.S. government to ensure the ongoing utilization of the Denton Program. Additionally, other American organizations are encouraged to seize the opportunity provided by the Denton Program to assist SETF in breaking the siege imposed by the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran.