World

US-Backed Syrian Rebels Defect To Syrian Government After CIA Program Ends

A small number of U.S.-backed rebels have reportedly defected to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad following news that President Donald Trump has ended the covert CIA program to arm rebels.

Syrian opposition members stated Saturday that at least four U.S.-backed rebels belonging to the Revolution Commando Army abandoned their posts and defected to Syrian regime forces on Thursday, The Associated Press reports.

More specifically, the claim of defection first came from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is located in Britain. Several days after the claim, opposition activist Ahmad al-Masalmeh and another activist both told The Associated Press on Saturday the reports were genuine.

The Revolution Commando Army, formerly called the New Syrian Army (NSA), reportedly received funds from the CIA in Jordan and training from U.S. special operations personnel under the Pentagon. Observers noted that fighters belonging to the NSA in 2016 were carrying around U.S.-made small arms and tactical terrain vehicles, which other rebel groups lacked. Despite the leg up in weapons and training, NSA’s performance was underwhelming. It failed to recapture the Syrian city of Al-Bukamal from the Islamic State in July 2016, despite also having U.S. air support.

At the time, Jennifer Cafarella at the Institute for the Study of War told The Associated Press that the New Syrian Army “is definitely not off to a good start.”

The New Syrian Army fell apart in December 2016, due to internal disputes. The remaining fighters formed the Revolution Commando Army in its stead.

U.S. officials told The Washington Post in late July that Trump had decided to end the deeply flawed, covert CIA program to arm rebels in June. It will take several months for the effort first initiated by the Obama administration in 2013 to fully wind down.

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