U.S. Special Operations Commander Tony Thomas confirmed Friday that the U.S. had ended its covert program aiding rebel groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad, saying the decision was made after assessing the years-long operation’s capabilities and by no means an effort to curry favor with Assad’s chief backer, Moscow.
“At least from what I know about that program and the decision to end it, absolutely not a sop to the Russians,” Thomas said at the Aspen Security Forum. “It was, I think, based on an assessment of the nature of the program, what we’re trying to accomplish, the viability going forward … tough, tough decision.”
It’s unclear whether Thomas intended to confirm either the existence or the end of the program, which, as a covert operation, U.S. officials to not publicly acknowledge. The comments appeared to take the CIA — which declined to comment — by surprise.
Thomas almost immediately tried to walk back his comments after leaving the stage, telling reporters he hadn’t confirmed anything and was referring only to “public reporting.”
Reports surfaced earlier this week that the Trump administration had decided to end the 2013 Obama-led program, in which the CIA armed and trained various rebel groups in Syria and the region who were fighting against Assad in the country’s years-long civil war. Its end had not been officially confirmed before Friday.
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SOURCE: Politico, Ali Watkins