With the recent developments claiming that Washington has opted to shut down its CIA operated anti-Assad operation in Syria, an op-ed in Washington Post assessed what this programme achieved over the years.
According to this piece, this programme was one of the primary reasons that forced a Russian intervention in Syria, which ultimately helped Assad to hang on to power.
Additionally, it is also claimed that CIA backed militants killed more than 100,000 Syrian, or pro Assad, soldiers in the country. The programme was initiated under the Obama administration, with many questioning its efficacy, including a number of Obama allies. The decision also comes on the back of the promise made by Trump of working closely with Russia in Syria against ISIS.
Trump has also indicated of negotiating a cease fire in Syria with Russia, stating, “We are working on the second cease-fire in a very rough part of Syria,If we get that and a few more, all of a sudden we are going to have no bullets being fired in Syria.”
David Ignatius, author of the Wa-post op-ed, while criticising the programme argued:
“The rise and fall of the Syria covert action program conveys some useful lessons about this most delicate weapon in the United States’ arsenal. To summarize, the program was too late, too limited and too dependent on dubious partners, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It was potent enough to threaten Assad and draw Russian intervention, but not strong enough to prevail. Perhaps worst, the CIA-backed fighters were so divided politically, and so interwoven with extremist opposition groups, that the rebels could never offer a viable political future.”
He further argued that the following actions or policy decisions could have helped in formulating a better Syria strategy:
“What could the United States have done to provide a different outcome? Here are some thoughts gathered from U.S. and Syrian officials who have followed the CIA program closely.
- CIA support could have started earlier, in 2012, when extremists weren’t so powerful and there was still hope of building a moderate force. By 2013, when the program got rolling, the military opposition was dominated by jihadists and warlords.
- The United States could have given the rebels antiaircraft weapons, allowing them to protect rebel-held areas from Assad’s brutal bombing. The rebels trained with such weapons but could never use them on the battlefield.
- While negotiating the nuclear deal with Iran, the United States didn’t want to kill Iranians in Syria. And once Putin intervened, the United States avoided Russians. Those limits were prudent, but they neutered the U.S.-backed military operations.
- The United States didn’t have a political strategy to match the CIA’s covert campaign. “There was no ‘there’ there, in terms of a clearly articulated national security objective and an accompanying strategy,” said Fred Hof, a former State Department official who has followed the Syria story closely. The American effort unintentionally “created massive divisions and rivalries instead of being used as a tool to unite disparate factions,” another former official said.”
It can now be claimed that the Obama administration’s Syrian adventure proved to be a US foreign policy disaster, which not only killed scores of innocent civilians, but also triggered one of the biggest forced displacement movements in history. It is yet to be seen whether the US administration would learn from this catastrophe and work closely with regional and global stakeholders to reach a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis.