The CIA suspended military aid to some rebels fighting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, a move that some opposition fighters believe is intended to prevent U.S. weapons and cash from falling into the hands of Islamic extremists, reports Reuters.
Some U.S.-provided weapons and military equipment have already fallen into the hands of terrorist groups through various means, including CIA-trained Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels defecting to the Islamic State (ISIS/ISI) and surrendering their weapons.
Jihadists have also captured weapons in battle, either left behind by U.S.-trained rebels or taken from them post-mortem.
Moreover, millions of dollars worth of weapons intended for the CIA-trained Syrian rebels have been stolen by officials from U.S. ally Jordan and sold on the black market.
U.S. intelligence and military officials said the leakage, sale and capture of U.S.-supplied and other weapons from units of the FSA [Free Syrian Army] to Islamic State, the Nusra Front, and other splinter militant groups have been a concern since the CIA and U.S. military began arming and training a limited number of rebels.
From the start, said one of the officials, some U.S.-backed rebels have migrated from groups that were battered by Syrian government forces to others such as IS that were seizing and holding territory at the time. Aid has slowed or stopped in [Syria’s] Idlib and nearby areas, officials said, amid fears the pattern may be continuing after rebels lost ground there.
Rebels have reportedly begun to doubt foreign nations will continue to provide support to their war against the brutal Assad in the wake of the suspension of CIA aid, which appears to predominantly benefit FSA fighters.
Rebel officials said that no official explanation had been given for the move this month following the jihadist assault, though several said they believed the main objective was to prevent arms and cash falling into Islamist militant hands. But they said they expected the aid freeze to be temporary.
The halt in assistance, which has included salaries, training, ammunition and in some cases guided anti-tank missiles, is a response to jihadist attacks and has nothing to do with U.S. President Donald Trump replacing Barack Obama in January, two U.S. officials familiar with the CIA-led program said.
However, some members of the FSA, an umbrella group for various localized rebel militias that control large swathes of eastern and central Syria, believe the aid suspension will be temporary.
Moreover, the FSA groups continue to carry out attacks against Russia and Iran-backed Assad troops in the wake of the cut in CIA assistance.
Reuters acknowledges that CIA declined to comment on this report.
In Syria, the ongoing conflict has pitted allies against each other, particularly NATO members the United States and Turkey, resulting in deadly clashes between some of the groups each country is respectively backing.
Turkey is lending support to many rebels, including FSA fighters who have also benefitted from U.S. assistance in the past. The Turkey-backed FSA is now fighting the U.S.-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Syrian Democratic Union (PYD) that control large portions of northern Syria.
Ankara considers the YPG to be an affiliate of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), but the U.S. does not. As a result, Turkey and the United States find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict in northern Syria.
This may be another reason why the CIA has suspended aid to the FSA since the rebel group would end up using U.S. assistance to combat the YPG.
The FSA has also been receiving support from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two countries that, like Turkey, oppose dictator Assad.