CIA-backed aid for Syrian rebels frozen after Islamist attack
Tom Perry, Suleiman al-Khalidi, John Walcott, Reuters, Feb 21 2017
BEIRUT/AMMAN/WASHINGTON – CIA-coordinated military aid for rebels in northwest Syria has been frozen since they came under major Jihadi attack last month, rebel sources said, raising doubts about foreign support key to their war against Assad. The rebels said that no official explanation had been given for the move this month following the Jihadi assault, though several said they believed the main objective was to prevent arms and cash falling into Jihadi hands. But they said they expected the aid freeze to be temporary. The halt in assistance, which has included salaries, training, ammunition and in some cases guided anti-tank missiles, is a response to Jihadi attacks and has nothing to do with Trump replacing Obama in January, two sources said. The freeze reflects the troubles facing the FSA rebels in the almost six-year-old revolt against Assad, who now appears militarily unassailable in his core western region, largely thanks to direct intervention on his side by Russia and Iran. A military boxtop with one of the affected FSA rebel groups said:
The reality is that you have changes in the area, and these changes inevitably have repercussions. No military assistance can enter at present until matters are organized. There is a new arrangement but nothing has crystallized yet.
The support funneled to vetted FSA factions has included contributions from Turks, Toads & Thanis. It is one of several foreign aid channels to rebels. Others still function. The CIA declined comment on the reported freeze in support. A Qatari (Thani) boxtop said his government had nothing to say on the matter. Turkish boxtops said only they could not discuss “operational details.” There was no word from the Toads. Reuters confirmed the freeze with military boxtops from five of the FSA groups that have been recipients of financial and military support from the so-called “MOM operations room.” It was also confirmed by two other senior FSA boxtops. Several rebels believed the aid halt was temporary, with new arrangements expected, but there was no clarity yet. Last month’s assault on the FSA was launched by the artist formerly known as Nusra, now yclept Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. It led several FSA groups to merge with Ahrar al-Sham, which will likely give pause to foreign donors, because Ahrar al-Sham and it has previously fought alongside Jabhat al-Nusra. Before assuming office, Trump suggested he could end support for FSA groups and give priority to the fight against Daesh, whose
well-armed Pindo-armed Jihadis hold large tracts of eastern and central Syria. But Trump’s administration has yet to declare a firm policy towards Syria and Iraq, despite his repeated vows to eradicate Daesh, so it has been “business as usual” with covert and overt training and military support programs, one source said. Some FSA groups hope Trump’s animosity towards Iran could yet result in enhanced Pindosi support. Jihadis attacked while FSA envoys attended Russian-backed Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan, accusing the rebels of conspiring with Moscow and Washington against Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. Pindostan has carried out a deadly series of air strikes against Fateh al-Sham in Idlib this year. An FSA boxtop from a group that has received MOM aid said:
No aid came this month, and there are no signals.
The regular meeting of the MoM for this month has been canceled. There are still around 15,000 FSA fighters in the north-west. I expect a reorganization.
Some of the FSA groups backed through the MoM in the north continue to receive Turkish support as they participate in the Turkish ‘Euphrates Shield’ offensive against the Kurds (and supposedly against Daesh too) to the north-east of Aleppo.