President Trump decided within the last month to end a covert CIA program that armed and trained moderate anti-government rebels in Syria, a move long sought by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his ally, Russia, U.S. officials told The Washington Post.
The program began in 2013 as a way to put pressure on Assad to resign, and will be phased out over the next few months, officials said. They also told the Post that Trump made his decision after talking with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo ahead of his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, at the G-20 summit. "This is a momentous decision," a current official said. "Putin won in Syria."
The U.S. will still carry out its air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and provide training and equipment to primarily Kurdish rebels near ISIS's de facto capital, Raqqa. Some analysts fear that Trump's decision will embolden more radical groups in the country. "We are falling into a Russian trap," Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told the Post. "We are making the moderate resistance more and more vulnerable. ... We are really cutting them off at the neck."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted that he hopes the news isn't true, because it would be "a complete capitulation to Assad, Russia, and Iran" and a big loss for "Syrians who have been relentlessly attacked by Assad, our Arab partners, and U.S. standing in the Middle East."