The Trump administration is ending the CIA’s covert program to arm and train Syrian rebels, The Washington Post is reporting Wednesday, a move that could be viewed as a concession to Russia, an acknowledgment of the program’s limited efficacy, as well as a tacit admission the U.S. has limited capacity to bring about political change in Syria.
President Trump has long viewed Syria as the place where the U.S. and Russia can find common ground in fighting ISIS and other extremist groups. The two countries are on opposite sides of the more than six-year-long civil war: Russia supports President Bashar al-Assad and the U.S. backs a coalition of rebel groups opposed to him. Both sides say they are fighting ISIS and groups like it. Although Trump ordered strikes inside Syria in April after Assad used chemical weapons on civilians, and the U.S. military has stepped up action against Assad’s forces, including near the area where the CIA trains its allies in the rebellion, the U.S. maintains its main target in Syria is ISIS.
The Post said Trump had decided to end the CIA program before his July 7 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. After that meeting, the two sides announced a cease-fire in southwest Syria, near the border with Jordan. That's the region, the Post said Wednesday, where the CIA trains moderate rebels. The newspaper added that the end of the CIA's program was not a precondition for the cease-fire agreement. The cease-fire deal, however, was apparently worked out in advance of the July 7 meeting; indeed Jordan, which was not at the G20, announced in Amman almost immediately that it would, along with Russia and the U.S., monitor the Syrian cease-fire, raising questions of when Trump took his decision on the CIA program. The Post did not provide an exact date.