Trump scraps covert CIA program to arm Syrian rebels

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Roji Kurd: US President Donald Trump has decided to end a secret CIA operation to support Syrian rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad, The Washington Post reports. Assad ally Russia had long pushed for such a step.

The U.S. decision was intended to show willingness to work with Russia in Syria, which wants to preserve its ally Assad’s rule, Reuters and the Washington Post reported, citing anonymous officials.

Trump reportedly made the decision to shut down the training program a month ago after consulting national security adviser H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Officials told the Post the move could be seen as an acknowledgement of Washington’s limited leverage and desire to remove Assad from power.

The CIA program began in 2013 as an effort by then-President Barack Obama to overthrow Assad, but produced little success.

According to unnamed U.S. officials, Trump made the decision to ditch it after consultations with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo before his July 7 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Germany, media said.

The CIA and the White House have declined to comment on the report. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told a press briefing she was not aware if Trump discussed the matter with Russian President Vladimir Putin when the leaders met on the sidelines of the G20 summitin Hamburg, Germany, earlier this month.

One official told Reuters that the United States was not making a major concession, given Assad’s grip on power, “but it’s a signal to Putin that the administration wants to improve ties to Russia.”

Trump and his relations with Russia have been the subject of intense scrutiny amid investigations into Moscow’s alleged interference in last year’s US presidential election.

Before assuming office, Trump said he might end support for Free Syrian Army and give priority to the fight against Islamic State by rebel groups that the United States continues to arm.

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