On CIA operations in Syria

So what’s the CIA been up to in Syria during the past few years?

From a Washington Post article from late 2013:

The CIA is expanding a clandestine effort to train opposition fighters in Syria amid concern that moderate, U.S.-backed militias are rapidly losing ground in the country’s civil war, U.S. officials said.

But the CIA program is so minuscule that it is expected to produce only a few hundred trained fighters each month even after it is enlarged, a level that officials said will do little to bolster rebel forces that are being eclipsed by radical Islamists in the fight against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

And then, from a Washington Post article from just last month:

The House Intelligence Committee recently voted unanimously to cut as much as 20 percent of the classified funds flowing into a CIA program that U.S. officials said has become one the agency’s largest covert operations, with a budget approaching $1 billion a year.

Well, that escalated quickly.  What are the funds being used for, exactly?

U.S. officials said the CIA has trained and equipped nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria over the past several years — meaning that the agency is spending roughly $100,000 per year for every anti-Assad rebel who has gone through the program.

The CIA declined to comment on the program or its budget. But U.S. officials defended the scale of the expenditures, saying the money goes toward much more than salaries and weapons and is part of a broader, multibillion-dollar effort involving Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to bolster a coalition of militias known as the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army.

What’s interesting to me is the comments on how this is all part of a larger coalition effort between the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey to fund proxy groups in Syria.  We’ve seen a very similar situation develop before, back in 1980s in Afghanistan.  Then, too, efforts to fund proxy militias were done through a coalition of regional allies–namely Pakistan and Saudi Arabia–and in that case, it became pretty clear that much of the money and weapons sidelined more moderate rebels like those lead by Ahmad Shah Massoud, in favor of radical Islamist groups lead by people like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

So perhaps, people should not be so surprised to see radical Islamist groups dominating the rebel forces in Syria today, or expect that US planners are as concerned as they make themselves out to be for the media.

Also, props to this excellent Jacobin article on Syria that lead me to the two Washington Post.  

first battallion

“First Battalion” fighters of the Free Syrian Army, via Washington Post

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