Trump may end US support for "moderate" rebels in Syria

(Nov. 12) In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, President-elect Donald Trump suggested that he was likely to end the U.S. policy of supporting "moderate" rebel groups.

He claimed that the U.S. did not really know who the moderate rebels were and that the U.S. should concentrate on defeating the Islamic State (IS).
Trump said in the interview:“I’ve had an opposite view of many people regarding Syria. My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful, because of us, is aligned with Syria. … Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are.”Trump also expressed concern that if the U.S. attacked the Assad regime it would end up fighting not only Syria but Russia as well.
In the past, Trump has suggested that the defeat of Assad could actually lead to something worse in the aftermath assuming it did not result in a war with Russia. Within the U.S. administration there has been an ongoing problem with the Pentagon wanting to fight the Islamic State (IS) while the CIA and State Department wants to shift the focus toward regime change. The CIA is heavily involved in providing arms and funding for the rebels. Earlier CIA plans for creating new forces and arming them have failed, often disastrously. Often arms end up in the hands of Al-Qaeda-linked or IS forces.
The U.S. is supporting about 30,000 Syrian-Kurd plus some Syrian-Arab fighters against the IS. They are at present advancing on the IS "capital" in Syria Raqqa. There are approximately 300 U.S. Special Operations forces assisting these fighters. It is not this operation but the CIA covert program designed to help rebels defeat Assad which Trump may end. The so-called moderate rebels are allied and cooperate with some groups that were until recently explicitly associated with Al-Qaeda. The rebels show little concern that some of those against Assad are radical jihadists. The important aspect of the situation for them is that they are opposing Assad.
Trump's position will probably resonate with Putin since Trump is unlikely to try and pressure Russia to drop support for Assad. However, he may find himself in conflict with the CIA.

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