But opposition activists say they have smuggled hundreds of satellite receivers and other gear they have acquired on their own into Syria in recent months in part because they have not received significant quantities of such equipment from the United States.
The activists’ accounts contrast sharply with assertions by the administration that it has spent millions of dollars and provided about 900 satellite phones and other pieces of equipment to the Syrian opposition.
In Istanbul this month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton cited the shipments during a public appearance. “We are providing $25 million in nonlethal aid, mostly communications, to civil society and activists,” she said.
With a major international airport in Istanbul, a 500-mile border with Syria and a supportive government in Ankara, Turkey is a crossroads for supplies flowing to Syrian rebels from Europe and the Middle East. But Syrian activists said they have been frustrated by unfulfilled pledges from U.S. officials that equipment is on its way.
“Our groups have not received anything from the U.S. side,” said Imad Eddin al-Rachid, a former assistant dean at the Islamic Law College in Damascus, who has met with Clinton and other high-level U.S. officials in Turkey in recent months.
More than a dozen Syrians directly involved in smuggling equipment said they have delivered hundreds of devices to groups in Aleppo, Damascus and other beleaguered cities but were unaware of any gear that had been provided by the United States.
Seeking to bolster its support to opposition groups, the State Department recently established a program to provide equipment and instruction to anti-Assad activists. But the program requires participants to travel to Istanbul for training before they are given any gear.
U.S. officials and Syrian nationals involved in the program said that it is slated to expand in the coming months but that fewer than two dozen laptop computers and satellite modem kits had been distributed so far.
U.S. officials acknowledged that the program, known as the Office of Syrian Opposition Support, only started work two months ago and had been hampered by bureaucratic and diplomatic delays. Among them, officials said, was concern by the Turkish government that OSOS could emerge as a rival to other Syrian groups or secretly be used to ship weapons into Syria.
It is “fair to say that it’s very much a work in progress,” said Rick Barton, the assistant secretary of state who oversees the program. “We are moving as aggressively as possible now that we have cleared many of the cobwebs in our own system and with our allies.”