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How America Armed Terrorists in Syria

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  • How America Armed Terrorists in Syria

    How America Armed Terrorists in Syria
    Another Middle East debacle
    By GARETH PORTER • June 22, 2017

    Free Syrian Army fighters in Saqba, a suburb of Damascus (Photo: Freedom House / CC-BY-2.0)
    Three-term Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a member of both the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, has proposed legislation that would prohibit any U.S. assistance to terrorist organizations in Syria as well as to any organization working directly with them. Equally important, it would prohibit U.S. military sales and other forms of military cooperation with other countries that provide arms or financing to those terrorists and their collaborators.
    Gabbard’s “Stop Arming Terrorists Act” challenges for the first time in Congress a U.S. policy toward the conflict in the Syrian civil war that should have set off alarm bells long ago: in 2012-13 the Obama administration helped its Sunni allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar provide arms to Syrian and non-Syrian armed groups to force President Bashar al-Assad out of power. And in 2013 the administration began to provide arms to what the CIA judged to be “relatively moderate” anti-Assad groups—meaning they incorporated various degrees of Islamic extremism.
    That policy, ostensibly aimed at helping replace the Assad regime with a more democratic alternative, has actually helped build up al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise al Nusra Front into the dominant threat to Assad.
    The supporters of this arms-supply policy believe it is necessary as pushback against Iranian influence in Syria. But that argument skirts the real issue raised by the policy’s history. The Obama administration’s Syria policy effectively sold out the U.S. interest that was supposed to be the touchstone of the “Global War on Terrorism”—the eradication of al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates. The United States has instead subordinated that U.S. interest in counter-terrorism to the interests of its Sunni allies. In doing so it has helped create a new terrorist threat in the heart of the Middle East.
    The policy of arming military groups committed to overthrowing the government of President Bashar al-Assad began in September 2011, when President Barack Obama was pressed by his Sunni allies—Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar—to supply heavy weapons to a military opposition to Assad they were determined to establish. Turkey and the Gulf regimes wanted the United States to provide anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to the rebels, according to a former Obama Administration official involved in Middle East issues.
    Obama refused to provide arms to the opposition, but he agreed to provide covert U.S. logistical help in carrying out a campaign of military assistance to arm opposition groups. CIA involvement in the arming of anti-Assad forces began with arranging for the shipment of weapons from the stocks of the Gaddafi regime that had been stored in Benghazi. CIA-controlled firms shipped the weapons from the military port of Benghazi to two small ports in Syria using former U.S. military personnel to manage the logistics, as investigative reporter Sy Hersh detailed in 2014. The funding for the program came mainly from the Saudis.
    A declassified October 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report revealed that the shipment in late August 2012 had included 500 sniper rifles, 100 RPG (rocket propelled grenade launchers) along with 300 RPG rounds and 400 howitzers. Each arms shipment encompassed as many as ten shipping containers, it reported, each of which held about 48,000 pounds of cargo. That suggests a total payload of up to 250 tons of weapons per shipment. Even if the CIA had organized only one shipment per month, the arms shipments would have totaled 2,750 tons of arms bound ultimately for Syria from October 2011 through August 2012. More likely it was a multiple of that figure.
    The CIA’s covert arms shipments from Libya came to an abrupt halt in September 2012 when Libyan militants attacked and burned the embassy annex in Benghazi that had been used to support the operation. By then, however, a much larger channel for arming anti-government forces was opening up. The CIA put the Saudis in touch with a senior Croatian official who had offered to sell large quantities of arms left over from the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. And the CIA helped them shop for weapons from arms dealers and governments in several other former Soviet bloc countries.
    Flush with weapons acquired from both the CIA Libya program and from the Croatians, the Saudis and Qataris dramatically increased the number of flights by military cargo planes to Turkey in December 2012 and continued that intensive pace for the next two and a half months. The New York Times reported a total 160 such flights through mid-March 2013. The most common cargo plane in use in the Gulf, the Ilyushin IL-76, can carry roughly 50 tons of cargo on a flight, which would indicate that as much as 8,000 tons of weapons poured across the Turkish border into Syria just in late 2012 and in 2013.
    One U.S. official called the new level of arms deliveries to Syrian rebels a “cataract of weaponry.” And a year-long investigation by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project revealed that the Saudis were intent on building up a powerful conventional army in Syria. The “end-use certificate” for weapons purchased from an arms company in Belgrade, Serbia, in May 2013 includes 500 Soviet-designed PG-7VR rocket launchers that can penetrate even heavily-armored tanks, along with two million rounds; 50 Konkurs anti-tank missile launchers and 500 missiles, 50 anti-aircraft guns mounted on armored vehicles, 10,000 fragmentation rounds for OG-7 rocket launchers capable of piercing heavy body armor; four truck-mounted BM-21 GRAD multiple rocket launchers, each of which fires 40 rockets at a time with a range of 12 to 19 miles, along with 20,000 GRAD rockets.
    The end user document for another Saudi order from the same Serbian company listed 300 tanks, 2,000 RPG launchers, and 16,500 other rocket launchers, one million rounds for ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns, and 315 million cartridges for various other guns.
    Those two purchases were only a fraction of the totality of the arms obtained by the Saudis over the next few years from eight Balkan nations. Investigators found that the Saudis made their biggest arms deals with former Soviet bloc states in 2015, and that the weapons included many that had just come off factory production lines. Nearly 40 percent of the arms the Saudis purchased from those countries, moreover, still had not been delivered by early 2017. So the Saudis had already contracted for enough weaponry to keep a large-scale conventional war in Syria going for several more years.
    By far the most consequential single Saudi arms purchase was not from the Balkans, however, but from the United States. It was the December 2013 U.S. sale of 15,000 TOW anti-tank missiles to the Saudis at a cost of about $1 billion—the result of Obama’s decision earlier that year to reverse his ban on lethal assistance to anti-Assad armed groups. The Saudis had agreed, moreover, that those anti-tank missiles would be doled out to Syrian groups only at U.S. discretion. The TOW missiles began to arrive in Syria in 2014 and soon had a major impact on the military balance.
    This flood of weapons into Syria, along with the entry of 20,000 foreign fighters into the country—primarily through Turkey—largely defined the nature of the conflict. These armaments helped make al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, al Nusra Front (now renamed Tahrir al-Sham or Levant Liberation Organization) and its close allies by far the most powerful anti-Assad forces in Syria—and gave rise to the Islamic State.
    By late 2012, it became clear to U.S. officials that the largest share of the arms that began flowing into Syria early in the year were going to the rapidly growing al Qaeda presence in the country. In October 2012, U.S. officials acknowledged off the record for the first time to the New York Times that “most” of the arms that had been shipped to armed opposition groups in Syria with U.S. logistical assistance during the previous year had gone to “hardline Islamic jihadists”— obviously meaning al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, al Nusra.
    Al Nusra Front and its allies became the main recipients of the weapons because the Saudis, Turks, and Qataris wanted the arms to go to the military units that were most successful in attacking government targets. And by the summer of 2012, al Nusra Front, buttressed by the thousands of foreign jihadists pouring into the country across the Turkish border, was already taking the lead in attacks on the Syrian government in coordination with “Free Syrian Army” brigades.
    In November and December 2012, al Nusra Front began establishing formal “joint operations rooms” with those calling themselves “Free Syrian Army” on several battlefronts, as Charles Lister chronicles in his book The Syrian Jihad. One such commander favored by Washington was Col. Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi, a former Syrian army officer who headed something called the Aleppo Revolutionary Military Council. Ambassador Robert Ford, who continued to hold that position even after he had been withdrawn from Syria, publicly visited Oqaidi in May 2013 to express U.S. support for him and the FSA.
    But Oqaidi and his troops were junior partners in a coalition in Aleppo in which al Nusra was by far the strongest element. That reality is clearly reflected in a video in which Oqaidi describes his good relations with officials of the “Islamic State” and is shown joining the main jihadist commander in the Aleppo region celebrating the capture of the Syrian government’s Menagh Air Base in September 2013.
    By early 2013, in fact, the “Free Syrian Army,” which had never actually been a military organization with any troops, had ceased to have any real significance in the Syria conflict. New anti-Assad armed groups had stopped using the name even as a “brand” to identify themselves, as a leading specialist on the conflict observed.
    So, when weapons from Turkey arrived at the various battlefronts, it was understood by all the non-jihadist groups that they would be shared with al Nusra Front and its close allies. A report by McClatchy in early 2013, on a town in north central Syria, showed how the military arrangements between al Nusra and those brigades calling themselves “Free Syrian Army” governed the distribution of weapons. One of those units, the Victory Brigade, had participated in a “joint operations room” with al Qaeda’s most important military ally, Ahrar al Sham, in a successful attack on a strategic town a few weeks earlier. A visiting reporter watched that brigade and Ahrar al Sham show off new sophisticated weapons that included Russian-made RPG27 shoulder-fired rocket-propelled anti-tank grenades and RG6 grenade launchers.
    When asked if the Victory Brigade had shared its new weapons with Ahrar al Sham, the latter’s spokesman responded, “Of course they share their weapons with us. We fight together.”
    Turkey and Qatar consciously chose al Qaeda and its closest ally, Ahrar al Sham, as the recipients of weapons systems. In late 2013 and early 2014, several truckloads of arms bound for the province of Hatay, just south of the Turkish border, were intercepted by Turkish police. They had Turkish intelligence personnel on board, according to later Turkish police court testimony. The province was controlled by Ahrar al Sham. In fact Turkey soon began to treat Ahrar al Sham as its primary client in Syria, according to Faysal Itani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
    A Qatari intelligence operative who had been involved in shipping arms to extremist groups in Libya was a key figure in directing the flow of arms from Turkey into Syria. An Arab intelligence source familiar with the discussions among the external suppliers near the Syrian border in Turkey during those years told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius that when one of the participants warned that the outside powers were building up the jihadists while the non-Islamist groups were withering away, the Qatari operative responded, “I will send weapons to al Qaeda if it will help.”
    The Qataris did funnel arms to both al Nusra Front and Ahrar al Sham, according to a Middle Eastern diplomatic source. The Obama administration’s National Security Council staff proposed in 2013 that the United States signal U.S. displeasure with Qatar over its arming of extremists in both Syria and Libya by withdrawing a squadron of fighter planes from the U.S. airbase at al-Udeid, Qatar. The Pentagon vetoed that mild form of pressure, however, to protect its access to its base in Qatar.
    President Obama himself confronted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over his government’s support for the jihadists at a private White House dinner in May 2013, as recounted by Hersh. “We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria,” he quotes Obama as saying to Erdogan.
    The administration addressed Turkey’s cooperation with the al Nusra publicly, however, only fleetingly in late 2014. Shortly after leaving Ankara, Francis Ricciardone, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey from 2011 through mid-2014, told The Daily Telegraph of London that Turkey had “worked with groups, frankly, for a period, including al Nusra.”
    The closest Washington came to a public reprimand of its allies over the arming of terrorists in Syria was when Vice President Joe Biden criticized their role in October 2014. In impromptu remarks at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, Biden complained that “our biggest problem is our allies.” The forces they had supplied with arms, he said, were “al Nusra and al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”
    Biden quickly apologized for the remarks, explaining that he didn’t mean that U.S. allies had deliberately helped the jihadists. But Ambassador Ford confirmed his complaint, telling BBC, “What Biden said about the allies aggravating the problem of extremism is true.”
    In June 2013 Obama approved the first direct U.S. lethal military aid to rebel brigades that had been vetted by the CIA. By spring 2014, the U.S.-made BGM-71E anti-tank missiles from the 15,000 transferred to the Saudis began to appear in the hands of selected anti-Assad groups. But the CIA imposed the condition that the group receiving them would not cooperate with the al Nusra Front or its allies.
    That condition implied that Washington was supplying military groups that were strong enough to maintain their independence from al Nusra Front. But the groups on the CIA’s list of vetted “relatively moderate” armed groups were all highly vulnerable to takeover by the al Qaeda affiliate. In November 2014, al Nusra Front troops struck the two strongest CIA-supported armed groups, Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionary Front on successive days and seized their heavy weapons, including both TOW anti-tank missiles and GRAD rockets.
    In early March 2015, the Harakat Hazm Aleppo branch dissolved itself, and al Nusra Front promptly showed off photos of the TOW missiles and other equipment they had captured from it. And in March 2016, al Nusra Front troops attacked the headquarters of the 13th Division in northwestern Idlib province and seized all of its TOW missiles. Later that month, al Nusra Front released a video of its troops using the TOW missiles it had captured.
    But that wasn’t the only way for al Nusra Front to benefit from the CIA’s largesse. Along with its close ally Ahrar al Sham, the terrorist organization began planning for a campaign to take complete control of Idlib province in the winter of 2014-15. Abandoning any pretense of distance from al Qaeda, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar worked with al Nusra on the creation of a new military formation for Idlib called the “Army of Conquest,” consisting of the al Qaeda affiliate and its closest allies. Saudi Arabia and Qatar provided more weapons for the campaign, while Turkey facilitated their passage. On March 28, just four days after launching the campaign, the Army of Conquest successfully gained control of Idlib City.
    The non-jihadist armed groups getting advanced weapons from the CIA assistance were not part of the initial assault on Idlib City. After the capture of Idlib the U.S.-led operations room for Syria in southern Turkey signaled to the CIA-supported groups in Idlib that they could now participate in the campaign to consolidate control over the rest of the province. According to Lister, the British researcher on jihadists in Syria who maintains contacts with both jihadist and other armed groups, recipients of CIA weapons, such as the Fursan al haq brigade and Division 13, did join the Idlib campaign alongside al Nusra Front without any move by the CIA to cut them off.
    As the Idlib offensive began, the CIA-supported groups were getting TOW missiles in larger numbers, and they now used them with great effectiveness against the Syrian army tanks. That was the beginning of a new phase of the war, in which U.S. policy was to support an alliance between “relatively moderate” groups and the al Nusra Front.
    The new alliance was carried over to Aleppo, where jihadist groups close to Nusra Front formed a new command called Fateh Halab (“Aleppo Conquest”) with nine armed groups in Aleppo province which were getting CIA assistance. The CIA-supported groups could claim that they weren’t cooperating with al Nusra Front because the al Qaeda franchise was not officially on the list of participants in the command. But as the report on the new command clearly implied, this was merely a way of allowing the CIA to continue providing weapons to its clients, despite their de facto alliance with al Qaeda.
    The significance of all this is clear: by helping its Sunni allies provide weapons to al Nusra Front and its allies and by funneling into the war zone sophisticated weapons that were bound to fall into al Nusra hands or strengthen their overall military position, U.S. policy has been largely responsible for having extended al Qaeda’s power across a significant part of Syrian territory. The CIA and the Pentagon appear to be ready to tolerate such a betrayal of America’s stated counter-terrorism mission. Unless either Congress or the White House confronts that betrayal explicitly, as Tulsi Gabbard’s legislation would force them to do, U.S. policy will continue to be complicit in the consolidation of power by al Qaeda in Syria, even if the Islamic State is defeated there.

    Gareth Porter is an independent journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of numerous books, including Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (Just World Books, 2014).
    To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway

  • #2
    Dirty deeds done at the taxpayers expense. Since the 1950s covert operations carried out by the CIA have essentially blemished America's moral reputation time and time again. Sadly it seems exactly what the CIA accomplishes best when the smoke has cleared over time in the eyes of history.

    Heck , if one wants or chooses to become the "police to the world" then one must accept some bad cops working along the same path.
    1953 Iran , 1954 Guatemala , 1958 Indonesia , 1961 Cuba , 1963 Dominican Republic , 1967 Greece , 1968 VN , 1970 Cambodia , 1972 Watergate DC (alleged though only background ties proven) , 1980 Afghanistan , 1983 Nicaragua , 1987 Iran-contra affair...
    One could well get a feeling that sometimes when trying to provide American 'vital interests' with an advantageous position the wider scope of the covert operations gets bedraggled (stained) in less-than-stellar situations that ultimately windup compromising or failing those 'vital interests'.

    Surely many enjoy a good 'conducting tradecraft' story coming out of least in Hollywood.
    Real eyes realize real lies.


    • #3
      They are pretty much all terrorists there. Nusra, Assad, Iran, Putin.

      We need to pick our interests and play our cards.

      War is messy and gray. Wed be morons to lose out of sanctimony.


      • #4
        "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" goes back to the 4th century BC.

        Has been US policy since at least WW2


        • #5
          Originally posted by Gun Grape View Post
          "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" goes back to the 4th century BC.

          Has been US policy since at least WW2
          And everybody else' policy as well.
          Applies to domestic politics as well as international politics.

          It is a human thing.


          • #6
            Tulsi Gabbard is horrified at the idea of US weapons being used by terrorists in Syria, but is happy to fawn at the feet of Bashar Assad, whose regime has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians. She is a vile person emblematic of just how divorced a segment of the left has become from any concept of good & bad in this world.

            Win nervously lose tragically - Reds C C


            • #7
              ^^^ Like


              • #8

                Tulsi Gabbard is horrified at the idea of US weapons being used by terrorists in Syria, but is happy to fawn at the feet of Bashar Assad, whose regime has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians. She is a vile person emblematic of just how divorced a segment of the left has become from any concept of good & bad in this world.
                i agree that Gabbard is disturbingly naive or disingenuous on the Assad question, but considering her military service, her volunteering for deployment to Iraq just as the insurgency was rapidly heating up, and her 2004 decision to remain with her military unit instead of campaigning for re-election, i wouldn't write her off as completely divorced from any concept of good & bad in the world.

                there's some other politicians, cough cough the President, whom would be good examples of this though.
                There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov


                • #9

                  Also, to the Gunny's point, I've always liked what is carved into the lintel over the door to the Foreign Office in London

                  "No Permanent Friends. Just Permanent Interests"
                  “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
                  Mark Twain


                  • #10
                    Had no idea who she was

                    Looked it up, she looks really cute


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by astralis View Post

                      i agree that Gabbard is disturbingly naive or disingenuous on the Assad question, but considering her military service, her volunteering for deployment to Iraq just as the insurgency was rapidly heating up, and her 2004 decision to remain with her military unit instead of campaigning for re-election, i wouldn't write her off as completely divorced from any concept of good & bad in the world.

                      there's some other politicians, cough cough the President, whom would be good examples of this though.
                      OK, so she once had a concept of good and bad in this world which has now become lost under a layer of ideology. The fact that she has done all these things suggests to me that 'disturbingly naive or disingenuous' is giving her too much benefit of the doubt. The fact that she was a prominent Sandersista leads me to suspect a terminal Chomskyite infection. Hopefully she is kept well away from anything really important.

                      Of course you are right about Trump & not a few other Republicans. The love affair with Putin's authoritarian conservatism that started out in the base of the party has moved all the way to the head. The belief that 'realpolitik' somehow requires a nation to ignore any & all human rights concerns makes Reagan look like a bleeding heart. Credit where its due, however, Trump has at least done something to make Assad think twice about the methods he uses to commit mass murder. Had Obama launched a few air strikes early on this conflict might have taken a different & less destructive course.

                      Win nervously lose tragically - Reds C C


                      • #12

                        The fact that she was a prominent Sandersista leads me to suspect a terminal Chomskyite infection.
                        not exactly Chomskyite.


                        her support for Sanders was for his domestic economic policy and not foreign policy-- Sanders has called Assad a war criminal and says that he has to go. that juxtaposition made for a bit of awkwardness earlier.

                        her support for Assad doesn't stem from the reflexive Chomskyite self-loathing Westerner, but rather the Trumpian 'ISIS is the worst, so we should make friends with anyone else whom hates ISIS regardless of their moral proclivities or their other foreign policy interests.' it's no accident that she was considered for a job in the Trump Administration and that Bannon is a fan of hers.

                        (Sanders' proposed overall foreign policy-- what little there is-- is far from Chomskyite too, but in another sense. lefty, but not THAT lefty-- he voted for the Afghanistan War as well as for the 90's NATO bombing in the Balkans.)

                        i think closest you get to Chomskyite in a major politician these days is Corbyn. in the US, the Code Pink types that you mention have pretty much disappeared back into the woodwork again absent a major ground war. bottom-line, i think her foreign policy views are stupid but not necessarily malevolent or value-free.
                        Last edited by astralis; 29 Jun 17,, 15:05.
                        There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov


                        • #13

                          Aug 1 2012 (!)

                          There were indian commentators at the time saying the Americans were arming the Syrian rebels.

                          But see the dance of words in the opener. Obama refused to arm the rebels but allowed logistical support. Whats the difference ?


                          • #14
                            Followed through on his campaign pledge/statements.

                            Trump ends covert CIA program to arm anti-Assad rebels in Syria, a move sought by Moscow

                            By Greg Jaffe and Adam Entous

                            July 19 at 2:52 PM 

                            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 long sought by Russia, according to U.S. officials.

                            The program was a central plank of a policy begun by the Obama administration in 2013 to put pressure on Assad to step aside, but even its backers have questioned its efficacy since Russia deployed forces in Syria two years later.

                            Officials said the phasing out of the secret program reflects Trump’s interest in finding ways to work with Russia, which saw the anti-Assad program as an assault on its interests. The shuttering of the program is also an acknowledgment of Washington’s limited leverage and desire to remove Assad from power.

                            Just three months ago, after the United States accused Assad of using chemical weapons, Trump launched retaliatory airstrikes against a Syrian air base. At the time, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, said that “in no way do we see peace in that area with Assad at the head of the Syrian government.”

                            Officials said Trump made the decision to scrap the CIA program nearly a month ago, after an Oval Office meeting with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and national security adviser H.R. McMaster ahead of a July 7 meeting in Germany with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

                            How Trump is changing America’s foreign policy View Graphic 

                            Spokesmen for the National Security Council and the CIA declined to comment.

                            After the Trump-Putin meeting, the United States and Russia announced an agreement to back a new cease-fire in southwest Syria, along the Jordanian border, where many of the CIA-backed rebels have long operated. Trump described the limited cease-fire deal as one of the benefits of a constructive working relationship with Moscow.

                            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, said U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the secret program.

                            Trump’s dealings with Russia have been under heavy scrutiny because of the investigations into the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election. The decision on the CIA-backed rebels will be welcomed by Moscow, which focused its firepower on those fighters after it intervened in Syria in 2015.

                            Some current and former officials who support the program cast the move as a major concession.

                            “This is a momentous decision,” said a current official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a covert program. “Putin won in Syria.”

                            The decision will not affect a separate Pentagon-led effort to work with U.S.-backed Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State. And the CIA-backed rebels were part of the larger moderate opposition.

                            Some analysts said the decision was likely to empower more radical groups inside Syria and damage the credibility of the United States.

                            “We are falling into a Russian trap,” said Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, who focuses on the Syrian resistance. “We are making the moderate resistance more and more vulnerable. . . . We are really cutting them off at the neck.”

                            Others said it was recognition of Assad’s entrenched position in Syria.

                            “It’s probably a nod to reality,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former Obama administration official and director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

                            U.S. intelligence officials say battlefield gains by rebels in 2015 prompted Russia’s direct military intervention on the side of the Assad regime. Some U.S. officials and their allies in the region urged President Barack Obama to respond by providing the rebels with advanced anti*aircraft weapons so they could better defend themselves. But Obama balked, citing concerns about the United States getting pulled into a conflict with Russia.

                            Senior U.S. officials said that the covert program would be phased out over a period of months. It is also possible that some of the support could be redirected to other missions, such as fighting the Islamic State or making sure that the rebels can still defend themselves from attacks.

                            “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.”

                            U.S. officials said the decision had the backing of Jordan, where some of the rebels were trained, and appeared to be part of a larger Trump administration strategy to focus on negotiating limited cease-fire deals with the Russians.

                            Earlier this month, five days into the first cease-fire in southwest Syria, Trump indicated that another agreement was under discussion with Moscow. “We are working on the second cease-fire in a very rough part of Syria,” Trump said. “If we get that and a few more, all of a sudden we are going to have no bullets being fired in Syria.”

                            One big potential risk of shutting down the CIA program is that the United States may lose its ability to block other countries, such as Turkey and Persian Gulf allies, from funneling more sophisticated weapons — including man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS — to anti-Assad rebels, including more radical groups.

                            Toward the end of the Obama administration, some officials advocated ending the CIA program, arguing that the rebels would be ineffective without a major escalation in U.S. support. But the program still had the support of a majority of top Obama advisers, who argued that the United States couldn’t abandon its allies on the ground and give up on the moderate opposition because of the damage that it would do to U.S. standing in the region.

                            Even those who were skeptical about the program’s long-term value, viewed it as a key bargaining chip that could be used to wring concessions from Moscow in negotiations over Syria’s future.

                            “People began thinking about ending the program, 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.”

                            Trump administration
                            Donald Trump drops Syria programme 'in bid to improve Russia ties'

                            President suspends largely unsuccessful initiative aimed at equipping and training moderate rebels to fight Bashar al-Assad
                            Donald Trump and HR McMaster
                            Donald Trump with national security adviser HR McMaster, who helped make the decision. Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

                            David Smith in Washington

                            Wednesday 19 July 2017 18.58 EDT
                            Last modified on Wednesday 19 July 2017 19.00 EDT

                            Donald Trump has decided to halt the CIA’s covert programme to equip and train moderate rebels fighting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, in a move likely to be welcomed by Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

                            The CIA programme began in 2013 as part of Barack Obama’s support for the overthrow of Assad but met with little success, two officials told Reuters. Some armed and trained rebels defected to Islamic State and other radical groups.

                            One of the officials was quoted as saying the US is not making a major concession, given Assad’s continued grip on power, but “it’s a signal to Putin that the administration wants to improve ties to Russia”.

                            Along with Iran, Moscow has played a critical part in shoring up Assad during the the six-year civil war.

                            The decision was made with national security adviser HR McMaster and CIA director Mike Pompeo after they consulted with lower ranking officials, and before Trump’s 7 July meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Germany, Reuters reported. It was not part of US-Russian negotiations on a limited ceasefire in south-west Syria the two leaders agreed to at the summit, the officials said.

                            Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, said: “It’s a victory for Assad, Iran and Putin, all of which carried the day. But it’s also a victory for America: in this case I do believe Trump is pursuing the correct policy.

                            “Trying to destroy Russia in Syria is a fool’s errand because Russia is helping to pursue al-Qaida and Isis there. Since when is destroying extremism a bad thing? Just because Russia is for it doesn’t automatically make it bad.”

                            Landis said that it had become clear that the rebels will not win, the US has no leverage over Assad – and a large percentage of the arms are falling into the hands of extremists.

                            “Obama was on his way to making the same decision,” he said. “Many people would now be genuinely happy if Assad could conquer the rest of Isis territory. In a sense this is the raggedy end of a rationale for regime change. America has learned from many nasty experiences that violent regime change in the Middle East does not produce democracy and human rights.”

                            The Washington Post was first to report the programme’s suspension on Wednesday. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy press secretary at the White House, declined to comment on the topic. The CIA also declined to comment.

                            But Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told the Washington Post: “We are falling into a Russian trap. We are making the moderate resistance more and more vulnerable ... We are really cutting them off at the neck.”

                            A separate effort by the US military effort to train, arm and support other Syrian rebel groups with air strikes and other actions will continue.

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                            Syrian rebels alarmed by reports covert CIA aid will end

                            Insurgents fear US President Donald Trump will cut funding to opposition forces

                            by: Erika Solomon in Beirut

                            Syrian rebels reliant on US help in their battle against Bashar al-Assad’s regime have reacted with dismay and disbelief to reports that president Donald Trump is to end a covert CIA programme to arm and train opposition forces. Many say they were not informed of any changes to the policy introduced by Barack Obama in 2013 as part of efforts to put pressure on the Syrian president and bring about a political settlement. Mr Assad’s main backer, Russia, has long pushed for the US to end support.According to a report first published by the Washington Post, Mr Trump decided last month to end funding for the CIA programme. Rebels say their CIA interlocutors have not confirmed any change, and political opposition figures who met US officials earlier this week say they, too, were given no hint of any change. The White House has not confirmed its cancellation of the programme.“Until now, nothing is confirmed. There have been no changes on the ground. When we spoke to the concerned parties [in the operations room] they were also surprised at the news,” said Hassan Hamadeh, commander of the rebel group Division 101. “Co-ordination is ongoing, and everything has been happening normally.” One rebel commander, who asked not to be named, said US support had been waning for months, but noted that the rebels were given their salaries as normal last month. He said rebel commanders had been given no warning by US officials. They said they were waiting to see what happens in the coming days when funding is likely to be disbursed for the following month. Still he believed the decision was final. “The CIA’s role is done,” the rebel commander said. An opposition figure who works closely with the US State Department said US officials had hinted in a meeting this week that the Trump administration would be rolling out a new vision for Washington’s Syria policy in the coming months.Many in the opposition speculated that the decision was not taken last month, as reported, but more recently during Mr Trump’s meetings with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit this month. US officials who spoke to the Post said the decision had been taken well before that meeting.“We can’t know for sure what happened, or when, but this is clearly an American effort to improve their relations with Russia,” the rebel commander said.Since Mr Trump came to office, his policy on Syria has shifted several times. He began his presidency vowing to end support for the opposition, but then became the first western government to bomb Mr Assad in response to a chemical weapons attack. This boosted opposition hopes he would turn out to be a more forceful figure against the Syrian government than his predecessor, Barack Obama.The programme, funded by international intelligence agencies from western countries, Gulf states, and Turkey, had long been fraught by rebel rivalries and feuds between donor states. The CIA funding for rebel groups fed into two internationally backed operations rooms that supported an array of rebel groups seen as ideological moderates — one based in Jordan to help rebels in the south, and one based in Turkey to funnel aid to rebels in the north. Related article

                            Many observers and even rebels themselves criticised the programme for turning a blind eye to its funding ending up with jihadis. Rebels who received support would return to volatile territories in Syria, only to be pressured by an al-Qaeda-linked jihadi group to hand over a cut. “Frankly so much of the weapons and ammunition were going to [Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate] that it’s probably a good thing,” a third opposition figure said.For all the criticism of the US support, one of the rebel commanders said losing it would push Syria further toward Islamists or Mr Assad. “I don’t want the Americans to leave, because this means Syria has been surrendered — on one side, to the Turks and the Muslim Brotherhood groups it supports in Syria, and on the other side, to Russia and the regime.”Additional reporting by Nazih Osseiran
                            To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


                            • #15
                              Ilan Goldenberg's comment "It's probably a nod to reality" rings so true.

                              I wonder if the Saudis will pick up the tab and open purse strings.
                              Last edited by PeeCoffee; 21 Jul 17,, 02:28.
                              Real eyes realize real lies.