The ending of the Central Intelligence Agency’s covert bankrolling of Syrian insurgent groups has produced a truly bizarre development – a number of rebels have defected to President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, in a clear demonstration of just how fundamental US taxpayer dollars were to the war.
A number of fighters hailing from the Revolution Commando Army — formerly the New Syrian Army — abandoned their posts and defected to the government side during the week commencing July 24.
The group not only received CIA funds, but was also trained by US special operations personnel, under the direction of Pentagon.
The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
CIA backing of the NSA/RCA was long-suspected — in 2016, observers noted fighters belonging to the group were equipped with US-made small arms and tactical terrain vehicles other rebel groups typically lacked — although it was only when US President Donald Trump canceled the program it was effectively officially confirmed.
Despite their apparent advantage, the group’s performance in Syria was surely underwhelming from a US perspective — despite US air support, its fighters failed to recapture the Syrian city of Al-Bukamal from Daesh in July 2016. Then, Jennifer Cafarella of the Institute for the Study of War told wire services the army was “definitely not off to a good start.”
The NSA subsequently collapsed in December that year, with many giving up the battle entirely — those who remained formed the RCA.
Officially, the policy of backing “rebel” groups in Syria was initiated under Barack Obama’s administration in 2013, although there are suggestions it began far earlier.
The goal was to train at least 5,400 “moderate” (i.e. non-Islamist rebels) to fight Daesh, while also opposing the legitimate Assad government.
While not overtly acknowledged, the policy — and its grave failure — was well known in Washington for years prior to Trump’s cessation. Senior US officers have testified to Congress that an undetermined number of rebels ended up absconding withUS military equipment and joining Islamist groups, including Daesh.
Furthermore, in September 2015 then-CENTCOM commander General Lloyd Austin told the US Senate Armed Services Committee half a billion dollars of funding for military training of Syrian rebels approved by Congress had only produced only four or five opposition troops in the field by that point.
Critics have suggested the real purpose of the program was not to defeat Daesh, but to topple the legitimate Syrian government of President Bashar Assad — and its existence motivated other anti-Assad forces, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council, Turkey and assorted jihadists the world over, to step up their own destabilization efforts.
Whatever the truth of the matter, continued US support for rebel groups in Syria effectively blocked any moves to the conflict in Syria constructively — despite the six-and-a-half year war ravaging the country and costing over 600,000 lives. Moreover, while wedded to the policy, the US was effectively precluded from seeking a negotiated resolution to the crisis.
However, Trump’s decision to end the CIA support program breathed new life into the Syrian peace process.
The termination of CIA funding for the rebels is perhaps the final tree to fall in the once vast forest that blocked peace and reconstruction in Syria.Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ceased all territorial claims in the country, and is pursuing a constructive and pragmatic policy of reconciliation and rapprochement with President Assad, and the Russian Federation, which has produced an effective ceasefire in most parts.
Moreover, the clash between Qatar and other members of the GCC has distracted the latter, in particular Saudi Arabia, from the Syrian crisis.
Internationally, leaders that support regime change in Syria are dwindling with every passing week.
That rebel forces are now defecting to the government they once violently opposed is surely the clearest indication yet that President Assad is set to stay in place as the country’s leader.
President Bashar al-Assad has praised the Syrian people and army, saying their will has defeated terrorism in the country.
“The will of the Syrian people and their determination as well as the heroism of the Syrian Arab Army” are the most important reasons that have helped the country defeat foreign-backed militants, Assad said on Monday.
Assad also appreciated the Syrian people, saying they did not allow terrorist groups and their backers to halt their daily activities.
He made the remarks in a meeting with a delegation from Tunisia’s General Labor Union (UGTT), headed by its Assistant Secretary General Bu Ali Mubaraki, in the capital Damascus, Syria’s official news agency, SANA, reported.
During the meeting, Assad stressed that the delegation’s visit carried many messages to the world as it “reflects the pulse of the Arab public opinion and its orientations.”
In turn, members of the Tunisian delegation confirmed that they came to Damascus to convey a message of support for the Syrian people.
The Syrian people have showed matchless support for their leadership and army, which are defending the dignity of the Arab nation, the delegation said.
The Tunisian delegation stressed that the West does not want Syria to play any role except according to what they dictate.
The delegation said the West has targeted Syria because of its fair stance towards regional developments.
The delegation also described Syria as a state which remains at the forefront of the campaign against terrorism. “If what is planned against Syria succeeded, the chaos would have prevailed throughout the Arab region. Therefore, defending it is defending all the Arabs.”
The Nobel Peace Prize-winning UGTT is known to many Tunisians for the role it played in the North African country’s historic revolution of 2011.
Syria has been gripped by a deadly conflict since March 2011. The government has repeatedly blamed certain foreign countries for the spread of the devastating militancy in the country.
Over the past few months, Syrian forces have made sweeping gains against Takfiri elements, which have in turn increased their acts of violence across the country.
Tunisia, too, has experienced violence since the 2011 uprising that ousted the country’s dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was in power for over two decades. The country has also been affected by the growing instability in neighboring Libya, which has been in chaos since former dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and later killed in 2011.
During the past six years, Tunisia has witnessed multiple terrorist attacks.
Tunisia is among the countries with the highest per capita number of extremist militants operating in other countries. Thousands of Tunisians have reportedly left their country since 2011 to fight alongside extremist groups in Iraq and Syria.
The gloomy status quo of Daesh has growingly worried Tunisians who fear that many militants would return to the North African country. Late last year, Tunisian authorities warned about the return of thousands of Takfiri militants, calling for “exceptional measures” to combat the phenomenon.