GOP Sen. John McCain blasted President Donald Trump for ending the covert CIA program to arm rebels in Syria, saying that Trump’s move is “playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin.”
“If these reports are true, the administration is playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin,” McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said in a statement Thursday. “Making any concession to Russia, absent a broader strategy for Syria, is irresponsible and short-sighted.
“The administration has yet to articulate its vision for Syria beyond the defeat of ISIL, let alone a comprehensive approach to the Middle East,” McCain continued. “A key pillar of American strategy must be the removal of Assad from power as part of an end to the brutal conflict in Syria, which has fueled ISIL’s growth through its cruelty, extended malign Iranian influence, and undermined broader regional stability.”
McCain was responding to a Wednesday report from The Washington Post, in which anonymous officials stated that Trump had decided to end the covert CIA program to funnel weapons to anti-Bashar al-Assad rebels a month ago. The Obama administration first started the program in 2013, though it failed completely to bring down Assad. The White House pushed to limit the amount of arms funneled to the rebels, so that the rebels would not gain a decisive advantage, but rather drag the conflict out to force a political solution that would include Assad leaving power.
That decisively did not happen. Rather, Russian and Iranian forces have pounded U.S.-backed rebels and bolstered Assad to the point where his regime is in virtually no danger of being overthrown by domestic dissenters.
Notably, the end of the CIA program does not mean the end of U.S. assistance in Syria. First, the program will be phased out over several months and may even subsist in some much smaller form. Second, the Pentagon is still very much actively involved in funneling weapons and support to the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is a militia group largely comprised of Kurds, in an effort to obliterate the Islamic State.
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