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The End of the CIA Program in Syria

Washington Cedes the Field

Free Syrian Army fighters in the town of Dael, July 2017. Alaa Faqir / Reuters

On July 19, The Washington Post reported that the CIA was ending its covert support for rebels fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The program, which started four years ago, had backed forces affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that the U.S. government considered politically moderate—that is, non-Islamist. It had benefited roughly 20,000 fighters, including such groups as Division 13 and the Hamza Battalion in Syria’s northwest and south and the Eastern Lions in its southwest. But despite the program’s cost, which ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars per year, its effects on the rebels’ ability to fight and bring down the government were limited. The end of the program thus represents both a pragmatic concession to military reality and a decision by the United States to abandon Syria to Russia. The most important consequence, however, is the loss of Washington’s credibility to

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