U.S. officials in the Trump administration have decided to end the CIA's covert operations to fund, arm, and train so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels who are waging civil-war against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
The United States began the operations in 2013 and was a central component of the Obama administration's policy in Syria, which sought the overthrow of Assad.
Two officials spoke anonymously with Reuters, saying that the program had not been very successful, due to Assad's “grip on power.”
They also indicated that the move was an effort by the Trump administration to improve U.S.-Russia relations.
It is unlikely the move signals the end of U.S. action against the Syrian government. Officials also told Reuters that while the CIA program is ending, a “separate effort” by the Pentagon will continue, involving training and arming of Syrian opposition groups, as well as support through air-strikes.
The decision was made over the past month during consultation with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
Although the U.S. has recently negotiated a ceasefire with Russia in southwest Syria, the officials have said that the decision to end funding for Syrian opposition militants is not a part of the deal.
One of the officials speaking to Reuters said that a “downside” of the CIA program is that some of the so-called “moderate” opposition fighters were defecting to the Islamic State group.
Russian and Iranian leadership has frequently criticized the United States' backing of so-called moderate rebel groups, saying that the weapons and even trained soldiers very often go on to support terrorist groups.
They have also pointed out that the U.S.-backed proxy-war in Syria runs counter to the fight against the Islamic State group. The Syrian government is one of the principal actors making military gains against the terrorist organization in Syrian territory.
When U.S. backing began to provide Syria's assorted militant rebel groups, many of whom have close ties and ideological links with the al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front, with the strength needed to make military gains against the government, Russia and Iran began to intervene at the request of the Syrian government.