As militant-held sections of Aleppo crumbled under Russian airstrikes this month, the Obama administration was secretly weighing plans to rush more firepower to CIA-backed units in Syria. The proposal, which involved weapons to be used by the Syria militants there, made its way onto the agenda of a recent meeting the US President Barack Obama held with his national “security” team.
And that’s as far as it got. Neither approved nor rejected, the plan was left in a state of ambiguity that US officials said reflects growing administration skepticism about escalating a covert CIA program that has trained and armed thousands of Syrian terrorists over the past three years.
The operation has served as the centerpiece of the US strategy to press Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside. But US officials said there are growing doubts that even an expanded version could achieve that outcome because of Moscow’s intervention. Obama, officials said, now seems inclined to leave the fate of the CIA program up to the next White House occupant.
If so, Obama’s successor will inherit an array of unattractive options. Critics of the proposal to increase arms shipments warn that it would only worsen the violence in Syria without fundamentally changing the outcome. But inaction has its own risks – increasing the likelihood that Aleppo will fall, that tens of thousands of CIA-backed militants will search for more-reliable allies, and that the United States will lose leverage over regional partners that until now have refrained from delivering more-dangerous arms to Assad’s opponents.
The proposed expansion of the agency program – dubbed “Plan B” because it was seen as a fallback for failed diplomatic efforts – still has supporters, including CIA Director John Brennan and War Secretary Ashton B. Carter. But even former ardent proponents, including Secretary of State John F. Kerry, have voiced skepticism about any escalation at this point. He and others fear that the new weaponry could end up killing Russian military personnel, triggering a confrontation with Moscow.
Meanwhile, neither Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton nor her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, has publicly outlined a position on the widely known but nevertheless classified CIA operation in Syria.
Source: Washington Post