The Free Syrian Army is seeking the resumption of a suspended CIA military aid program, urging Donald Trump to “turn words into action” and confront what it claims is Iran’s expanding “hegemony” in the region, Reuters reports.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA), an alliance of anti-government insurgent groupings, is trying to persuade the US to revive the defunct CIA program which provided cash, weapons and instructors to “moderate” rebels, a high-ranking rebel official told the news agency.
Mustafa Sejari, a senior FSA official, said President Trump’s decision to suspend the CIA program is only benefiting Iran’s efforts to tighten its grip on the region.
Syrian rebels “endorse President Trump’s statements about the need to confront Iranian hegemony in the region,” but now “it is time to turn words into action,” Sejari said. He claimed that Iranian-backed militias “are expanding without serious resistance.”
The FSA, whose fighters have allegedly been complicit in war crimes and shown an inclination to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) ideology in the past, “asked for the resumption of aid” and “explained the dangers of leaving moderate FSA forces without support.”
Last July, the Trump administration reportedly ended the clandestine CIA program launched back in 2013 during Barack Obama’s presidency. The program, codenamed Timber Sycamore, had served as the backbone of Washington’s strategy to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, but proved a comprehensive failure.
Besides the CIA program, other US train-and-equip strategies to bolster rebel groups in Syria have also been notoriously underwhelming. In 2015, General Lloyd Austin, CENTCOM commander at the time, told Congress that only four or five US-trained fighters had gone to Syria out of the 5,000 the Pentagon had been counting on.
Earlier that year, then Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee that less than 1 percent of the 7,000-strong volunteer group had made it through the US military’s vetting process.
“As of July 3,  we are currently training about 60 fighters,” Carter said. “I can look out at your faces and you have the same reaction I do, which is that that’s an awfully small number.”
Moscow has consistently warned against arming the so-called moderate rebel factions in Syria, pointing out that weapons supplied to them often fall into the hands of jihadist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Nusra Front) and IS.
Rights groups allege that some rebel factions might have committed war crimes against civilians. In May 2016, Amnesty International said armed groups surrounding the Sheikh Maqsoud district near Aleppo “have repeatedly carried out indiscriminate attacks that have struck civilian homes, streets, markets and mosques, killing and injuring civilians and displaying a shameful disregard for human life.”