US President Trump has decided to close a covert CIA program to arm and train so-called moderate rebels battling the government in Syria, according to the US media refering to some sources in the White House.
The Washington Post clearly links the alleged move with the Putin-Trump meeting that took place earlier this month (source):
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.
Spokesmen for the National Security Council and the CIA declined to comment.
Even if reports are confirmed, it remains unclear which “rebel groups” will be cut off from the US arms supplies and funding. The move may also reflect the shift of the US strategy in Syria. Washington prefers to rely on the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces instead of a wide range of so-called moderate opposition groups often linked to al-Qaeda.