Syria Update 20170721 – CIA to halt support to Syrian rebels, armored vehicles continue to move into Syria, Turkey unhappy, Russian air campaign, offensive to take Raqqa, and more.
Raqqa. The Islamic State continues to hold on to the city of Raqqa, Syria. The Kurdish-led forces – Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – have closed on the city but resistance by ISIS has stiffened. So this may turn out to be a long, hard slog. The U.S. is assisting with the establishment of local security forces – Raqqa Internal Security Force – to take charge of the city’s security. In addition, it is working with civilian leaders to establish a local governance to fill the vacuum that will exist once ISIS is defeated.
Up-Armored Vehicles Move to Syria. Multiple reports in social media posted lately have shown convoys of flatbeds carrying armored vehicles heading from Iraq and moving into Syria. The U.S. is supplying vehicles to the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF); but it is also moving vehicles into Syria for its own forces. See “Armored US Combat Vehicles Have Been Spotted Pouring Into Syria”, Task & Purpose, July 20, 2017.
Turks Unhappy. The Turks are not pleased with the progress that the Kurds are making. They believe the YPG is aligned with Kurdish terrorist groups operating in Turkey. However, the U.S. seems to be steadfast in backing the Kurds (we shall see how long this lasts).
Russian Air Campaign. Russia continues to expand its influence in Syria. Putin (according to some critics) has co-opted the Trump administration and that appears to be yielding results. Although it says it is hitting ISIS in Syria hard with air support most of the air strikes are against anti-Assad forces. The Institute for the Study of War has provided an analysis of the recent Russian airstrikes (July 20, 2017).
FSA Loses CIA Support. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is now on the short end of the stick. The Trump administration has decided to (bowing to pressure from Russia perhaps?) end the spy agency’s semi-covert support of the Syria rebel forces fighting the Assad regime. The program started in 2013 but never got big enough to make a difference – a case of too little, too late. Many critics of the CIA’s program say that the ‘moderate’ rebel movement has been fractured and is closely aligned with Islamic extremist and terrorist groups.
Implications of Discontinuing CIA Program. The abandonment of the FSA by the United States will force the movement to further align itself with Gulf states and Turkey. Senator John McCain and others think that Putin and Iran are big winners in this decision. Many believe that this will be the death of the anti-Assad movement. See articles below:
“Syrian Rebels Say Jihadists Likely Beneficiaries of US Halt to Arms Supply“, Voice of America, July 20, 2017
“McCain: Cutting Syria train-and-equip ‘irresponsible'”, Military Times, July 20, 2017
“In Syria, the U.S. Reversed Course”, STRATFOR, July 20, 2017
“Trump’s CIA Decision Dooms Syrian Rebels”, by Paul D. Shinkman, U.S. News & World Report, July 20, 2017.
Could the CIA Program Have Gotten Good Results? Some critics say the CIA’s program could have been successful in building up moderate rebel forces before the extremist groups took hold if started earlier – as in 2012. Anti-aircraft missles were never delivered to the rebels (probably a good thing as who knows where those would end up). In addition, the U.S. has been avoiding confrontations with Russia and Iran in Syria – so that has limited the effectiveness of the CIA’s support. Read more in “What the demise of the CIA’s anti-Assad program means”, by David Ignatius, The Washington Post, July 20, 2017.