Analysis of the ending of the CIA’s military assistance program to the Syrian opposition

Huffington Post Greece – July 26, 2017

In a recent extensive report by the “Washington Post“, based on information from White House officials, we are informed that US President Donald Trump has suspended the CIA’s military support program to the Syrian military opposition which started in 2013 and aiming on the one hand at the provision of arms and on the other the filtering of weapons from Turkey and the Gulf countries in order to avoid the supply of portable anti-aircraft systems (MANPADS). This move was a surprise to many observers and political analysts about its causes and its implications for the future of the Syrian crisis. I will try to analyze its consequences and possible causes.

This action took place a few days after the G20 summit in Hamburg, attended by the US and Russian Presidents. Some linked it to this meeting, considering that the US president wanted to show goodwill to the Russian side by stopping military support for the Syrian military opposition. However, in reality, the move has larger dimensions and significant impact from the north to the south of the Syrian territory. We can anticipate the reasons for this step through the understanding of its implications.

Regarding the South, stopping the CIA support program means terminating M.O.C. (Military Operations Center) based in Jordan, which is responsible for supporting the Syrian military opposition factions in southern Syria, represented by the South Front. It should be noted that in recent weeks in the Jordanian capital of Amman, complex talks have taken place between the representatives of Russia, the USA and Jordan. During them, the final solution to the ceasefire in southern Syria as a whole was discussed. Thus, the announcement of the interruption of military support means either the closure of the M.O.C., or that the meeting has reached a final solution for the Syrian south and therefore there is no longer any need for continued military support to the opposition forces or that the Syrian military opposition in the south rejected the M.O.C. orders, prompting it to cancel the support program. Most likely, the first case is true, so in the coming days we will see the start of its implementation.

As far as the Syrian north is concerned, stopping aid also means the end of the M.O.M. (Müsterek Operasyon Merkezi’nin – Joint Operation Center), headed by the US and based in Turkey, responsible for supporting a number of Syrian opposition military groups in the northern part of Syria, which are mainly active in the operation “Euphrates Shield”. This shows that America has come to disagree with the Turkish side about the future of northern Syria, so the burden will fall to Turkey to fill the gap of US support. With regard to US support for Kurdish militias in the region, the CIA program is not responsible, but the Pentagon and therefore the support of the Kurds will continue. This move would mean that America has given the green light to Russia for increasing pressure on Turkey for a definitive solution that would end the conflicts in the north and thus comply with the Russian plan for the region.

The reason that led to this sudden action is that either Washington had reached a full agreement with Russia on the Syrian crisis or a complete deadlock. If the first option is correct, this means that the parties have prepared a comprehensive political plan to end the Syrian crisis. Either Moscow would force Assad to accept a political transition period that would lead to his withdrawal in two years, or that Moscow has forced Washington to endorse Assad’s survival by the date of the next presidential elections expected to take place in 2021, and has agreed to stop the conflicts in southern Syria and mitigate Iran’s influence in the country. Under such an agreement, the Syrian Kurds will have the right of self-management in the northeast, allowing Washington to maintain its military presence there. If the second option is right that the parties have reached a dead end, then Washington has decided to pull itself out of the complexity of Syria’s interior and maintain only its influence in the Kurdish regions and in the south, mainly due to the lifting of the pressure of the Gulf countries for the Syrian crisis as a result of their engagement with their internal crisis.

All previous cases are underway as the new US government, under Trump leadership, does not want to continue its involvement in the cycle of complex clashes in the Syrian arena. However, it is likely that this announcement was more communicative than practicable in the field, as when Russia announced the end of its military operations in Syria almost a year ago, but these are still in progress. Was that action just communication or a realistic one? The answer will be given in the near future.