RUSSIA has welcomed leaked news that US President Donald Trump has cancelled a CIA programme arming and funding Syrian insurgents.
Anonymous officials revealed earlier in the week that operation “Timber Sycamore” had been dropped by agreement with CIA director Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser General HR McMaster.
Russia’s Federation Council foreign affairs committee chairman Konstantin Kosachev said the decision to end the project “creates new opportunities for Russian-US co-operation,” although the Pentagon will maintain its support for Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces fighting Isis around Raqqa, which have also come to blows with the Syrian military.
The arming and training programme, supposedly aimed at strengthening “moderate” rebels, in fact passed weaponry and cash to dozens of militant groups.
All were supposedly vetted to ensure they were not extremist.
But such “vetted” groups included Nour al-din al-Zinki, notorious for releasing a film of its soldiers beheading a 10-year-old child in 2016, as well as others which had links to al-Qaida such as Hetesh (formerly the Nusra Front). Arms even ended up in the hands of Isis via the programme.
Though the US provided most of the training, much of the money and weaponry was supplied by Saudi Arabia — a prime sponsor of Wahhabi extremists in the country who have butchered Shia, Shi’ite, Alawite and Christian Syrians.
Hawkish US politicians attacked President Trump for ending the programme, although its practical impact was often derided — with US General Lloyd Austin telling a Senate committee in 2015 that after investment of $500 million (£385m) only “four or five” moderate rebel fighters were actually in the field.
An anonymous US official suggested the effect would be limited since Syria’s government has regained control of most of the country already, but it would act as “a signal to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin that the administration wants to improve ties to Russia.”
US investigative journalist Rick Sterling said: “Instead of discussing the failure of the CIA programme, which has wasted billions of dollars and effectively aided al-Qaida in Syria, Western media is discussing this news as ‘appeasing Russian President Vladimir Putin’.”
But Free Syrian Army southern front spokesman Issam Rais told Sputnik news yesterday there had been no halt yet in the flow of US arms.