US officials and Syrian rebels have told Reuters CIA-backed rebels are no longer receiving money, training, ammunition or weapons from the United States. This has been the case since late January which saw serious inter-rebel clashes, as well as consolidation of rebel outfits around the two biggest and most radical groups, al-Qaeda’s Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and the rival — but ideologically similar — Ahrar al-Sham.
Actually I am somewhat surprised that aid was cut to all groups without exception. With real rebel infighting Syria-regime-change fans probably had the best argument ever that there was such a thing as “good rebels” willing to take on al-Qaeda. This would have meant de facto backing Ahrar al-Sham which used to be the main protector of al-Qaeda, but it is not as if the US had not done similar things before.
This makes me believe there are other equally important reasons CIA aid is being reconsidered.
For one thing, such an enterprise requires the cooperation of Turkey and Jordan which is waning. Jordan has been cooling on Syria regime change for a while, while Turkey detests US military support for Syrian Kurds and has intermittently frustrated US access to Syria (and Incirlik air base) simply to get even.
US itself is losing interet. Since the Russian intervention there is less belief Americans can bring down Assad and since Trump’s win there is also less belief that they should.
Reuters says outfits previously backed by the CIA are hoping the US pull out is only temporary. Apparently Americans want to back a unified moderate force that can stand up to the radical mainstream of the rebellion. However, the chances such a coalition could be conjured up now are lower than ever.
It will be interesting to see what happens when the agency finally accepts that.
Will the American pullout become permanent, or can the Saudi favorite Ahrar al-Sham look to renewed backing? Or most likely, will the US resign itself to keeping a few irrelevant non-Salafist Islamists on its payroll for the illusion this gives it more of a say in the Syrian settlement?