US President Donald Trump on Thursday opted to end a covert CIA program introduced by his predecessor, Barack Obama, that armed and trained Syrian rebels battling the government of pro-Russian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the Washington Post reported.
The program was a key component of the Obama administration after it opted to pursue regime change in Syria after Assad used chemical weapons against civilians in 2013.
The program's effectiveness, however, came into question even from its original backers after Russia deployed large contingents of conventional and special forces units into Syria, fighting on the side of Assad's pro-government forces, in September 2015.
Russia's expeditionary forces joined other foreign units fighting on the side of the Assad regime, including elements of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps and Lebanon's radical Shia militia, Hezbollah.
White House officials said the program's closure is a reflection of Trump’s desire to closely align with Russia, which saw the anti-Assad program as a major threat to its interests in the Middle East. The officials said Trump hopes closer cooperation between the Kremlin and the White House will help end a six-year civil war that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
The move to cut off the flow of arms to the anti-Assad forces comes only three months after Trump launched retaliatory airstrikes against a Syrian air base after pro-government forces launched a new round of chemical attacks against civilian targets in rebel-held areas.
According to official sources close to the White House, Trump made the decision to scrap the CIA program nearly a month ago after an Oval Office meeting with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, ahead of a July 7 meeting in Germany with Russian President Vladimir Putin.