World

Trump Ends Syria Rebel Program

| by Michael Doherty
President Donald Trump.President Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump has ended the CIA's program to arm and train rebels in Syria.

Trump decided to end the program, which trained and armed moderate Syrian fighters to battle Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, as part of the Trump administration's push to work with Russia, according to the Washington Post.

The program, started by the Obama administration in 2013, was intended to pressure Assad to step down as president.

Russia has given military support to Assad during a civil war that has raged in the country for the past six years, leaving over 300,000 people dead, reports BBC.

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Trump is reported to have made the decision to end the program after a meeting with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. The decision also came before his July 7 talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin art the G-20 summit in Germany.

After the meeting between Trump and Putin, Russia and the U.S. announced that they would back a cease-fire in southwestern Syria, where some of the rebels being supported by the CIA had been operating.

"It's a signal to Putin that the administration wants to improve ties," said one official of the president's decision.

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"This is a momentous decision," said another official. "Putin won in Syria."

In March, White House Press Secretary said that the U.S. would not attempt to remove Assad from power, conceding that "there is a political reality that we have to accept."

On April 6, the Trump administration launched airstrikes on a Syrian air base after reports that Assad had used chemical weapons.

Three days later, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said: "In no way do we see peace in that area with Assad at the head of the Syrian government."

Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute warned that the U.S. was "falling into a Russian trap" which could strengthen extremist groups in Syria.

"We are making the moderate resistance more and more vulnerable," Lister said. "We are really cutting them off at the neck."

"This is a force that we can't afford to completely abandon," warned former Obama administration official Ilan Goldenberg, currently Middle East security program director at the Center for a New American Security. "If they are ending the aid to the rebels altogether, then that is a huge strategic mistake."

Officials said that the decision may be part of a larger strategy within the Trump administration to broker a number of small cease-fires with the Russian government.

"We are working on the second cease-fire in a very rough part of Syria," said Trump. "If we get that and a few more, all of a sudden we are going to have no bullets being fired in Syria."

Those who had advocated ending the program in the past had reportedly seen it as a bargaining tool that could be used with Russia.

"People began thinking about ending the program, but it was not something you'd do for free," said a former official from the White House. "To give [the program] away without getting anything in return would be foolish."

Trump's campaign is currently under investigation for possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election, Reuters reports. Russia and Trump have both denied that any collusion took place.

Sources: BBC, Washington Post, Reuters / Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr, Global Panorama/Flickr, Watchsmart/Flickr

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