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US ends CIA programme arming anti-Assad Syria rebels

Thaer Mohammed, AFP | Civilians watch as a tractor clears the rubble following Syrian government forces airstrikes in the rebel held neighbourhood of Tariq

US President Donald Trump has ordered the Central Intelligence Agency to end its programme aiding rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

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The Washington Post reported the end of the programme on Wednesday, citing unnamed US officials, who said the four-year-old secret operation has had limited effectiveness – particularly since Russian forces emerged in Syria to back Assad in 2015.

Trump made the decision to drop the programme nearly a month ago after meeting with CIA chief Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor HR McMaster.

White House and CIA officials did not comment on the report.

According to the Washington Post, ending the CIA programme is evidence of Trump's "interest in finding ways to work with Russia" as well as "an acknowledgment of Washington's limited leverage and desire to remove Assad from power".

The decision came as the US and Russia worked out a ceasefire in southwest Syria that encompasses areas where the rebels were active.  

The ceasefire was made public on July 7 at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, where Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin held their first face-to-face meeting.

'Overdue'

Former US president Barack Obama backed the rebel aid programme in 2013 after an array of rebel groups asked for support from foreign powers amid a widespread insurrection against Assad’s government.

Thousands of Syrian rebels were trained and armed under the programme. However, the extent of US support remained uncertain amid doubts over whether the rebels would succeed in ultimately unseating Assad.

Many analysts have also questioned the project's effectiveness.

Trump’s decision was “overdue”, as the programme “wasn’t yielding any achievable or clear dividends”, said William Jordan, a former US State Department official in Syria, in an interview with FRANCE24.

Moreover, embarassing reports have surfaced that US equipment meant for Syrian rebels had ended up in the hands of extremists.

“You can’t be sure that the weapons or training you are providing is benefitting people who don’t have an extreme agenda”, Jordan observed.

Jordan said the Trump administration is now "simply going to focus on destroying Islamic State in Raqqa", the jihadists' self-declared capital in Syria. 

(FRANCE24 with AFP)

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