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'Putin won in Syria': Trump ends CIA weapons, training for Syria rebels

Officials say move to end support for rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad's government is huge concession in Russia's favour
File photo of a US-backed Kurdish militia near Raqqa, Syria (AFP)

President Donald Trump will halt CIA arming and training to Syrian rebels fighting against Bashar al-Assad's government, US officials said on Wednesday.

According to the Washington Post, the unidentified officials said Russia has been advocating for such a decision and that the move shows the president's willingness to work with the Kremlin on Syria.

The government officials told the Post that Trump promised to scuttle the programme at a meeting between CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser HR McMaster one month before the president met Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

Officials and analysts said the decision is a major US concession.

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One official told the Post that the move is a "momentous decision," adding that "Putin won in Syria".

Charles Lister, a fellow at the Middle East Institute, said the US is "falling into a Russian trap".

"We are making the moderate resistance more and more vulnerable. . . . We are really cutting them off at the neck," he added.

The CIA began supplying arms and training to moderate rebels opposed to the government in 2013, under then-President Barack Obama.

Ilan Goldenberg, a former Obama administration official and director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security told the Post that the US cannot desert the rebels altogether.

"This is a force that we can't afford to completely abandon. If they are ending the aid to the rebels altogether, then that is a huge strategic mistake," Goldenberg said.

Trump's administration has been dogged by allegations of collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, which has led to the appointment of a special prosecutor to conduct an investigation into possible ties with the Kremlin.

Despite the allegations, Trump and Putin have been at odds over Syria. The US has supported moderate rebels fighting against the government while Russia has backed Assad.

Washington launched 59 missiles at a Syrian airbase after a chemical attack in Idlib province on 6 April that Western powers blamed on the Syrian government. US officials have threatened additional strikes if chemical weapons are used again. 

Russia's Sergey Lavrov denounced the US attack on the Syrian military, calling it a "flagrant violation" of international law.

Lavrov said Washington was seeking "excuses for regime change" in Syria.

"These attempts will not succeed, this will not happen," he said.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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