Donald Trump
Donald TrumpReuters

U.S. President Donald Trump has decided to end the CIA’s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of President Bashar Al-Assad, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, citing U.S. officials.

Arab intelligence services and the CIA have been training rebels since 2013 under the code name Timber Sycamore. The training effort is run from Jordan because of its proximity to Syria.

The program was a central plank of a policy begun by the Obama administration to put pressure on Assad to step aside, but even its backers have questioned its efficacy since Russia deployed forces in Syria two years later, noted The Washington Post.

Officials said the phasing out of the secret program reflects Trump’s interest in finding ways to work with Russia, which saw the anti-Assad program as an assault on its interests.

The officials told The Washington Post that 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.

After the Trump-Putin meeting, the United States and Russia announced an agreement to back a new ceasefire in southwest Syria, along the Jordanian border, where many of the CIA-backed rebels have long operated. Trump described the limited ceasefire deal as one of the benefits of a constructive working relationship with Moscow.

The move to end the secret program to arm the anti-Assad rebels was not a condition of the ceasefire negotiations, which were already well underway, stressed the U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

With the end of the CIA program, U.S. involvement in Syria now consists of a vigorous air campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS) and a Pentagon-run train-and-equip program in support of the largely Kurdish rebel force that is advancing on ISIS strongholds in Raqqa and along the Euphrates River valley, the report stated.

The Trump administration’s long-term strategy, following the defeat of ISIS, appears to be focused on stitching together a series of regional cease-fire deals among the U.S.-backed rebels, the Syrian government and Russia.