Trump CIA phase-out plan in Syria could be 'devious media news management’

Trump CIA phase-out plan in Syria could be 'devious media news management’
Don’t jump to conclusions on President Trump’s decision to phase out covert CIA operations in Syria, warns Peter Ford, former UK ambassador to Syria and Bahrain. He added that whatever the case, it seems to be a move in the right direction.

Reports emerged that US President Donald Trump decided to halt a covert CIA train-and-assist program for 'moderate' rebels in Syria.

Although US officials have so far declined to comment publicly, the story's been gaining a lot of media attention. Many publications are framing the reported move as a victory for Vladimir Putin. They say it means he has got what he wants in Syria and that Trump has capitulated to try and improve relations with Russia.

The CIA program started in 2013 under the Obama administration. It has been providing training for selected commanders from the Free Syrian Army at bases in Jordan as well as supplying weapons and equipment.

RT: The media has called the phasing out of the CIA program a “victory” for President Putin. This sounds like a slur against Trump. But could it signify a period of closer ties in Syria?

Peter Ford: We have to be cautious here. None of the details have been confirmed. We don’t know many of the details. It is possible that what is happening here is simply a partial gradual scaling down of US assistance to the favored opposition groups. What we may be seeing is some rather devious media news management by the Trump team. They are allowing an impression to be created that this is a major decision when in reality it will turn out in a few days or in a few weeks’ time that the scale of it is quite small. I wouldn’t jump to conclusions. In any case, however, it is certainly a step in the right direction in terms of bringing peace to the Syrian people and less tension to US relations with Russia.

RT: Why has the attention been turned to Russia? Isn't this a victory for the conflict in general?

PF: Exactly, and it has to be said to Trump’s credit that he is not allowing himself to be deflected from doing the strategically and politically right thing by this media bias. If this interpretation is correct, then he does deserve some credit, and we must be cautiously optimistic that he’ll continue down that path of belated common sense.

RT: We've heard one particular motto coming from US officials regarding Syria about “training, advising and assisting” partners on the ground. Will we potentially see a total U-turn on that policy in Syria?

PF: No, I don’t think. Maybe an L-turn, just a diversion, and a re-prioritization. What may be going on here is a scaling back of one of the several strands in US support for the rebels, and that is the Jordan-based element of the program, which was a notorious failure with some of the handful of trained rebels handing over their weapons to Al-Qaeda. That is maybe the program that we are talking about here. Other programs will almost certainly continue support for the so-called Free Syrian Army in locations where it is fighting ISIS and support for the Arab tribal militia which are helping the Kurds in the siege of Raqqa.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.