Ahrar al-Sham in the war effort. Photo: Ahrar al-Sham, Twitter
"Putin has won" – Not everyone in the Trump administration agrees with this move
According to the Washington Post, U.S. President Trump has decided to end the covert CIA program to arm and train Syrian militias seeking to overthrow Assad. The sources are anonymous government employees who appear to be familiar with the related negotiations between the U.S. and Russia.
Important things remain vague
The announcement is not an official government announcement. It is a signal from the Washington Post. Important points are left vague: no precise date is given for when the program is to be stopped. government officials are quoted as saying that the program is "to run out over a period of months" should. In addition, there are built-in backdoors.
It is possible that some of the support will be redirected to other missions. As an example of these other missions, the fight against the "Islamic State" mentioned or the "Ensure", that "The rebels will continue to be able to defend themselves against attacks". Which "Rebels" with it exactly are meant, remains speculation thing.
Also fighting against the IS is a so-called "rebel militia", which the USA continues to support. It sits at al-Tanf in southern Syria and runs Maghaweir Al-Thowra (Command of the Revolution). There, clashes are known to have occurred with Shiite militias linked to the Bashar al-Assad government. The U.S. Air Force intervened at least two times.
However, the signal of the Washington Post report is not directed at the mentioned militias. The stop signal concerns U.S. support for the Syrian government’s most belligerent and determined opponents, in the language of court reporting "Rebels" called.
CIA support for jihadists and Salafists
In the reality of Syria’s crisis and war zones, it was primarily the al-Qaida force al-Nusra (in various name and alliance guises) and the Salafist-jihadist Ahrar al-Sham, as well as jihadist formations such as Jaysh al-Islam, that dominated the militant counterbloc to the Syrian government.
Since they determined how the "Syrian Jihad" it was they, too, who benefited from the support the CIA received from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar forwarded to various groups, benefited.
For al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, who are currently engaged in fierce conflicts with each other in Idlib, the news of the halt is a signal that should not have surprised them. The fact that they are no longer supported as strongly as before should have long been noticed by al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham. The situation is better for Ahrar al-Sham, since it continues to be supported by Turkey. The Salafists have the advantage of being classified differently from al-Qaida militia.
At the Astana conference, they were listed under "moderate opposition" Russia’s concession to Turkey, the guarantor power of the opposition. The fact that the formerly closely allied comrades-in-arms al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham are now fighting each other in Idlib (at the moment there is a cease-fire again) has precisely to do with this. The al-Nusra leadership, excluded from the Astana process, demanded line loyalty that Ahrar al-Sham continue to follow al-Qa’ida jihad.
The turning point in Syria
Both militias, in variously named alliances, such as Jaish al-Fatah in Idlib, were the most militarily potent opponents of the Syrian government and, after its call for help, of Russia, which militarily intervened in Syria in late September 2015. Russia’s entry was the turning point in the Syrian war. Unfortunately, in terms of their reputation, leading media in the U.S., France and Germany reacted shortsightedly with a huge damonization and emotionalization of the Russian operation, which they did not know how to assess.
They accused Russia of trading offentlichkeit because the air force was more the "Rebels" than the IS, when the Russian government had raised the banner of the fight against the IS over its aid mission. Now, not quite two years later, it turns out that Russian tactics were the right ones to defeat the Syrian jihad. He had two main fronts, the IS and the militias, with a somewhat different but basically very similar plan, namely to establish an emirate in Syria.
The capture of Aleppo (according to information from war correspondent Patrick Cockburns, probably with a much rougher sparing of residents than in the Mosul conquest) was the tipping moment. After that, the aforementioned jihadist militias were weakened and Assad was able to begin offensives to retake areas under IS rule. Previously, this was prevented by al-Nusra and Co.
Priorities of the USA other than the support of the Assad opponents
The fact that the U.S. is discontinuing CIA support for the militias, all of which, regardless of whether they go by the FSA or other moderate names, were ultimately aligned with the Syrian jihad, is an inevitable consequence of the current situation. The U.S. now cares about other things than supporting a futile endeavor, namely zones of influence in Syria and Iraq, which would provide a bloc to oppose the more formidable adversary – Iran. Targeted are Kurdish zones in northern Syria and Iraq, as well as areas in southern Syria on the borders with Israel and Jordan.
For this, the USA needs the support of Russia. In the Washington Post report, the halt in arms deliveries is closely linked to negotiations between the US and Russia on a ceasefire in Syria. The cessation of arms deliveries was not a precondition, the report says, but it also makes clear that the halt is part of a broader agreement.
According to the newspaper, Trump made the decision to cancel the CIA program about a month ago, after a meeting at the White House with CIA chief Pompeo and National Security Advisor McMaster – before the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. There, as you know, Trump met with Putin and announced the success of the agreement on a ceasefire.