CIA-backed Syrian rebels under Russian blitz

Syrian rebels who have been receiving support from the CIA in their fight against the Assad regime are being attacked by Russian aerial bombardment, US officials say.

Throughout the past week, Russia has been targeting moderate opposition groups in Syria with air strikes, some of them secretly trained and armed by the Obama administration. The US appears to have little resources or interest in giving further support to those being attacked.

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said that Russian forces “know their targets, and they have a sophisticated capacity to understand the battlefield situation… They are bombing in locations that are not connected to the Islamic State.”

Other official spokespeople for the US were interviewed with a safety net of anonymity. The CIA first launched an operation in 2013 intended to arm, sponsor and train an unspecified moderate group fighting Assad. It is estimated that the intelligence agency had trained 10,000 fighters to date, but no one’s sure how many of these insurgents are still affiliated with “moderate” groups.

This program is unrelated to an earlier military effort intended to support groups which were ostensibly attacking ISIS and no other entity. This operation is widely seen as a failure, with many supported rebels being captured or defecting to extremist groups.

Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma said “Probably 60 to 80 percent of the arms that America shovelled in have gone to al-Qaida and its affiliates”.

American officials say that CIA-backed groups have begun making progress towards Syria’s capital Damascus, capturing territory in the al-Ghab plain, previously a natural no man’s land separating Sunni forces from Assad’s Alawite faction.

Recently, the Russian air force has been carrying out air strikes on various groups in the al-Ghab. According to an anonymous US official, Russian missiles and bombs have leveled buildings specifically associated with the moderate opposition. Russian representatives insist their military efforts have been explicitly targeting ISIS.

The US has more or less ruled out supplying surface-to-air missiles to CIA-backed groups, fearing they will fall into the wrong hands like so many of their other resources.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a democrat on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has proposed establishing a US-enforced no fly zone to protect those groups serving American interests, as well as shooting down Syrian helicopters which are targeting civilians.

He said the Obama administration “is debating the merits of taking further action or whether they are better off letting Putin hang himself.”

 

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