The Washington Post reports that President Trump has decided to end the CIA’s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad, a move likely to empower more radical groups inside Syria and damage the credibility of the United States.
WAPO quotes an anonymous current official as saying “This is a momentous decision … Putin won in Syria.”
The move to end the secret program to arm the anti-Assad rebels was not a condition of the cease-fire negotiations, which were already well underway, but a unilateral concession.
“People began thinking about ending the program [during the Obama administration], but it was not something you’d do for free,” said a former White House official. “To give [the program] away without getting anything in return would be foolish.”
Whether we are “falling into a Russian trap,” per Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute, or just giving “a nod to reality,” as suggested by Ilan Goldenberg of CNAS (and a former Obama administration official), this decision will have significant ramifications for U.S. national interests, beyond just the welfare of the Syrian rebels themselves. It also would entail a win for both Assad and Putin, and the reduction of the perception of US trustworthiness. And this is not to mention the likelihood that such a move would empower the more extreme elements of the insurgency.
“This is a force that we can’t afford to completely abandon,” Goldenberg said. “If they are ending the aid to the rebels altogether, then that is a huge strategic mistake.”
Meanwhile, in Ankara… Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu news agency Anadolu news agency published a report on Tuesday naming the location of 10 U.S. military posts in northern Syria, in some cases detailing the number of U.S and French troops present, as reported by Reuters.
This marks the latest evidence of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan cozying up to Russia and Iran, and becoming increasingly hostile toward the US and NATO.
Ankara was infuriated last month when Washington announced that it would continue arming Syrian rebels known as the YPG, over Turkish belief that YPG is an is an arm of the PKK, a designated terrorist organization. A decision by U.S. prosecutors to charge a dozen Turkish security and police officers after an attack on protesters during Erdogan’s visit to Washington also angered Ankara.