The ending by the U.S. of its program to support moderate Syrian opposition groups is not surprising given that President Donald Trump previously announced his intention to stop such support during his election campaign.
However, its timing carries with it several indications and signs. It comes at a time of some compromise between the U.S. and Russia with regard to some aspects of Syria, especially after the bilateral meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg, Germany, and the announcement of their having reached a cease-fire agreement in the southern region.
Most importantly, the cessation of American support for the Syrian opposition was a pressing Russian demand, even though U.S. support programs for the opposition were very limited and weak compared with the unlimited support the regime received and continues to receive from the mullahs of Iran and the Russian regime. It did not constitute actual support and has not significantly affected the balance of power on the ground in recent years.
Charade of a Training Program
The United States previously canceled a program designed to train Syrian opposition members to fight Islamic State elements rather than regime forces and the militias of the Iranian mullahs; it was a disastrous program.
It was reported that during a few months in 2015, the U.S. Department of Defense spent more than $384 million on training and equipping 180 members of the Syrian opposition. The matter constituted a farce. It drew the ridicule of observers since it translates to more than $2 million spent per group member, which no rational or sane person could accept or believe.
In order to complete the charade, these elements were pushed into Syrian territory without any American protection or support. Thus, some were killed, and those remaining fled. Meanwhile, the same program, overseen by the Pentagon, which provides support to the Kurdish People's Protection Units, has proved very effective. This is due to significant U.S. support for weapons and equipment, and the provision of all forms of protection and support for elements of these militias belonging to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, which is the Syrian arm of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party.
These militias are not fighting the forces of the Bashar Assad regime or the militias of the Iranian mullahs. They are fighting elements of the Syrian Free Army, some of which are receiving limited American aid, in addition to fighting the elements of the Islamic State group. This reveals the reality of American support and those targeted by it.
The administration's decision to abolish the CIA program to support the Syrian opposition will not change the balance of power on the ground. Even supporters of the program have previously acknowledged its total failure, especially after Russia's direct military intervention in Syria and fighting alongside the militias of the Iranian mullahs in defense of the Assad regime.
The program, which was designed to train and arm the moderate Syrian opposition, was launched in 2013 with the approval of former U.S. President Barack Obama, and was supported by some of the "Friends of Syria" nations in response to the crimes of Bashar Assad and his regime. It included the provision of military and logistical assistance, under CIA supervision, to Free Army factions in northern and southern Syria.
The Reality of American Support
The decision to cancel support for the moderate Syrian opposition reflects America’s true position on the Syrian issue, which is that there was never a day when it aimed to overthrow the Assad regime. It is being done to offer the Russians a gesture of goodwill by the U.S. administration, which wants to improve relations with them.
On the other hand, it points to the increasing pressure on the Syrian opposition to accept what the Russians are offering, in line with the U.S., especially with regard to de-escalation zones. This sends a dangerous signal to the Syrians, shadowed by the absence of possibilities for a political solution.
This comes after the Obama administration endeavored to prolong the war in Syria, employing various arguments and obstacles in order to evade international and moral responsibility for the crimes and atrocities perpetrated by the Assad regime, its Iranian allies and the Russians against the majority of Syrians.
Indeed, the U.S. administration's policy led to the preservation of the Assad regime, while disregarding the crimes that all human rights organizations have described as war crimes or crimes against humanity, from the use of chemical weapons to the barrel bomb strikes, to indiscriminate barbarism, to the sieges that starve people and bring them to their knees, to torture and death.
It is not surprising that the Trump administration’s position is an embodiment of the Assad regime since it does not have a clear strategy on the Syrian issue and its priority is to fight the Islamic State group. Furthermore, the suspension of the program to provide U.S. aid to the opposition is a retreat from what some saw as a change in Washington's position when American missiles were fired at Shayrat Airbase in response to the Syrian regime's chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
Statements by officials of the previous administration denigrating and denouncing the regime's practices at the beginning of the Syrian revolution and in support of the majority of Syrians’ demands for freedom and democracy did not find their embodiment on the ground.
Some U.S. officials even sold illusions to the Syrian political opposition at the same time their country’s administration extorted fighters in "moderate factions" by reducing its limited support, decreasing the funding in its control, and preventing certain weapons from getting into their hands.
Along with the systematic crimes of the Syrian regime, this contributed to the intensification of the phenomenon of extremism and the growing strength of the Islamic State group, of the Nusra Front and of their sister organizations at the expense of Free Army formations, which deteriorated in status.
The Trump administration is dealing with the Russian military presence as a fait accompli. It has been coordinating with Putin, thinking that the Russian presence can reduce the existence of the regime of Iranian mullahs. This is consistent with the former U.S. administration's disregard of Russia’s military intervention, with which it in turn coordinated.
Before this, Washington kept silent about the blatant interference of the mullahs of Iran in Syria via its fighting in the battle for the survival of the Assad regime. It has sent thousands of fighters and advisers, thousands from the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, and Iraqi sectarian militias, and it has undertaken the formation of militia brigades and battalions in Syria, without any movement on the part of United States.
Handling by U.S. politicians of the Syrian issue has contributed to the transformation of a revolution calling for freedom and dignity against tyranny into a war against terrorist groups and a regional and international power struggle, dividing the region into two opposing camps fighting on Syrian soil.
The result is that the Syrian regime has been left to do what it wants in the way of killing and displacing the majority of Syrians, while American officials repeat assurances to the regime by confirming that their country has no intention of intervening militarily and that the only solution is a political one. From this, the regime understands that no matter what violations and crimes it commits there will be no force to deter it. Thus, its crimes will go without any punishment of note.
After the failure of domestic and international political pressure on the Assad regime, fighting broke out to confront the all-out war declared by the regime on its entire society. But, the danger lies in the realization that the solution to the Syria issue is hostage to the compromise and cooperation between Russia and America.
In the meantime, the truth about Russian and American intentions and the Russian and American carelessness with Syrian blood and the fate of Syria has indeed been revealed via their focus on the war against terrorism, which they fear will come upon them, in parallel with a consensus between them over the sharing of interests and influence in Syria, to ensure their strategic objectives.
This has led to a sense of disappointment and frustration among the Syrian opposition, both politically and militarily. The opposition has been critical of international laxity, and has resigned itself to complaining about being excluded from agreements and resolutions pertaining to the fate of Syria.
It has fallen into the trap of betting on foreign powers, which do not regularly value anyone’s interests but their own, and flagrantly violate all of the international conventions, values and principles that they have set for themselves in exchange for preserving their own national interests.