Sources are confirming that the CIA’s long-standing arms smuggling program for “moderate” Syrian rebels has been frozen since earlier this month, with the move coinciding with the beginning of infighting between the Free Syrian Army and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.
No official explanation was offered to the rebels for the freeze, though it had been reported since the election that President Trump intended to end the program, having insisted throughout the campaign that the US had no clue who the recipients of the arms actually are.
A big issue might have been that, when the FSA formed its anti-Qaeda coalition, the Nusra Front formed its own coalition to fight them, and the CIA program was arming forces in both groups, with the Nour al-Din al-Zinki faction joining the Nusra Front’s coalition against the nominally “moderate” Islamist faction.
While the US is no stranger to arming both sides of a conflict, it would be a bit unseemly to continue arming both as they escalate a fight against one-another, particularly when one party is attacking the other explicitly for not participating in the international peace talks.
Thus, it’s unclear if the infighting is the justification for the freeze, or if the Trump Administration was looking to make such a move anyhow and the infighting just sped the process up. Either way, the rebels are complaining that the loss of US arms threatens their war for regime change.
This of course has been a subject of debate in the US for some time at any rate, both as to whether the rebels have any hope of winning this Civil War amid mounting losses, and whether a regime change leading to Islamists dominating Syria is even a desirable outcome to get the CIA to try to impose.
Until the Administration is more explicit in its intentions, it’s impossible to say if the policy decision has been made, or if the freeze is just a temporary measure that’s going to give way to another effort to prop up rebel forces in the future.