The White Helmets are touted for saving tens of thousands of lives, though estimates on exactly how many varies dramatically depending on the source. The recently released White Helmets’ Netflix documentary claims they’ve saved “over 55,000” people, while Georgetown Security Studies Review had the number at 15,500 in May 2015. The State Department claimed this April that 40,000 had been rescued by White Helmets, but AJ+, a subsidiary of Al Jazeera, asserted around the same time that “more than 24,000” have been saved.” In a separate report published four months later, AJ+ quoted the figure at 60,000—which is the figure the White Helmets themselves claim. Whatever the number, there is little dispute that the White Helmets’ rank-and-file are saving lives in what seems to be an increasingly desperate situation in eastern Aleppo.
Yet the group is anything but impartial. The White Helmets’ leadership is driven by a pro-interventionist agenda conceived by the Western governments and public relations groups that back them. Anyone who visits the group’s website—which is operated by an opposition-funded PR company known as the Syria Campaign—will be immediately directed to a request to sign a petition for a no-fly zone to “stop the bombs” in Syria. These sorts of communiques highlight the dual role the White Helmets play as a civil defense organization saving lives while lobbying for a U.S. military campaign that will almost inevitably result in the collapse of Syria’s government.
According to a 2012 Pentagon estimate, a no-fly zone would require at least “70,000 American servicemen” to enforce, along with the widespread destruction of Syrian government infrastructure and military installations. Also sometimes called "safe zones" or "buffer zones," from Yugoslavia to Iraq to Libya, no-fly zones have served almost without exception as the preamble to regime change. With no clear plan in place for the day after the government falls, or any conclusive evidence that its ouster is what most Syrians want, the Western governments, professional activists and public relations specialists who created the White Helmets are intensifying their push for regime change.