Trump Cuts Covert CIA Arming of Moderate anti-Assad Rebels in Syria

Covert program to be terminated, Washington Post reports, evidence of waning U.S. leverage in Syria and strengthening Trump-Russia ties

Rebel fighters carry their weapons and belongings, evacuating besieged Waer district in Homs, Syria on May 21, 2017 after an agreement was reached between government forces and rebels.
OMAR SANADIKI/REUTERS

In a decision by U.S. President Donald Trump, the CIA will conclude its program arming and training moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar Assad, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

The program, initiated by the Obama administration in 2013, originally intended to galvanize pressures to force Assad's departure but many questioned its ability to do so.

The report cites officials as claiming the covert program's staged closure reflects Trump's interests to work more closely with Russia, while Moscow perceived the program as an affront to its interests. Also evident, the report contends, is the U.S.'s waning influence in the region.

Officials cited by the Post said the decision to conclude the program followed an Oval Office discussion between Trump, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and national security advisor H.R. McMaster. Following the meeting, Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July. 

In the meeting, Trump and Putin agreed on a cease-fire deal in southwestern Syria, near the borders with Jordan and Israel. Though U.S. and Russian officials had been discussing a potential deal for some time, it didn't reach fruition until the run-up to Trump's meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit in Germany, officials said.

U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Post that Trump's decision to cut the program funding was not a condition of the cease-fire.

Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in an April interview that she sees regime change in Syria as one of the Trump administration's priorities. Defeating Islamic State, pushing Iranian influence out of Syria, and the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad are priorities for Washington, Haley said in an interview on CNN.