The CIA’s program to heavily arm “moderate” rebels to fighting the Syrian government, which has been ongoing since the Syrian Civil War began, was supposed to be “plan B” when the most recent ceasefire efforts in the country failed, with plans in place to throw a bunch of anti-aircraft and other arms at them to go after the Russians.
It’s not happening though. Officials were hyping up the proposal during a recent meeting, which also included possibile military action against Russia in Syria, but officials say the idea was “neither approved nor rejected” and just left it in limbo.
It’s not an oversight, but rather a reflection of the president’s unwillingness to continue the program himself, and a desire to leave it as an option for the next administration next year. The CIA program has been pretty unsuccessful, and the new arms weren’t seen as a likely gamechanger at any rate.
As one official put it, the units are “not doing any better on the battlefield, they’re up against a more formidable adversary, and they’re increasingly dominated by extremists.” That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, and it’s likely the lack of alternatives that has prevented it from being abandoned outright.
The CIA, of course, has been on board with the arming from day one, and hasn’t been all that worried about the extremist links within groups like the FSA, seeing regime change as their long-term goal, and not worrying too muich about how they get there.
This has led to a major ideological and practical split between the CIA and Pentagon, with the later preferring more dependable factions like the Kurds, even if they aren’t necesssarily willing to fight an open-ended US-backed war of regime change.
It’s also led to the US-backed rebels from the CIA side engaging in open fighting with the Pentagon-armed groups more than a few times, and the growing sense is that throwing more arms at the CIA’s allies is just throwing more fuel on the fire, and not going to accomplish anything.
Some are openly calling for a “ruthless” assessment of the program’s viability in the long run, though again, the White House seems to be planning to just delay it for a couple more months and leave it up to Obama’s successor.