What we know from "Under Trump, a Hollowed-Out Force in Syria Quickly Lost C.I.A. Backing," by Mark Mazzetti, Adam Goldman and Michael Schmidt, other than a obfuscating headline, is that the main points found in alternative media about the war in Syria have been validated: The CIA armed and funded Nusra Front, the arm of Al Qaeda in Syria, through the Free Syrian Army, an umbrella of Western/GCC mercenary ad hoc militias. Nusra fought alongside these CIA militias. The only distinction was a nominal one.
We are left with the fundamental contradiction of U.S. involvement in Syria. The legislative fig leaf that justifies a U.S. presence in Syria is the 2001 AUMF, which grants the U.S. the right to wage war against Al Qaeda and its affiliates. Yet what the U.S. did in Syria -- and no doubt continues to do on a smaller scale -- is wage war alongside Al Qaeda.
How long can such fundamental dishonesty be maintained?
WASHINGTON — The end came quickly for one of the costliest covert action programs in the history of the C.I.A.
During a White House briefing early last month, the C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, recommended to President Trump that he shut down a four-year-old effort to arm and train Syrian rebels. The president swiftly ended the program.
The rebel army was by then a shell, hollowed out by more than a year of bombing by Russian planes and confined to ever-shrinking patches of Syria that government troops had not reconquered. Critics in Congress had complained for years about the costs — more than $1 billion over the life of the program — and reports that some of the C.I.A.-supplied weapons had ended up in the hands of a rebel group tied to Al Qaeda further sapped political support for the program.
While critics of Mr. Trump have argued that he ended the program to curry favor with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, there were in fact dim views of the effort in both the Trump and Obama White Houses — a rare confluence of opinion on national security policy.
The shuttering of the C.I.A. program, one of the most expensive efforts to arm and train rebels since the agency’s program arming the mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the 1980s, has forced a reckoning over its successes and failures. Opponents say it was foolhardy, expensive and ineffective. Supporters say that it was unnecessarily cautious, and that its achievements were remarkable given that the Obama administration had so many restrictions on it from the start, which they say ultimately ensured its failure.
President Barack Obama had reluctantly agreed to the program in 2013 as the administration was struggling to blunt the momentum of Syrian government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. It soon fell victim to the constantly shifting alliances in Syria’s six-year-old civil war and the limited visibility that American military and intelligence officials had over what was occurring on the ground.
Once C.I.A.-trained fighters crossed into Syria, C.I.A. officers had difficulty controlling them. The fact that some of their C.I.A. weapons ended up with Nusra Front fighters — and that some of the rebels joined the group — confirmed the fears of many in the Obama administration when the program began. Although the Nusra Front was widely seen as an effective fighting force against Mr. Assad’s troops, its Qaeda affiliation made it impossible for the Obama administration to provide direct support for the group.
American intelligence officials estimate that the Nusra Front now has as many 20,000 fighters in Syria, making it Al Qaeda’s largest affiliate. Unlike other Qaeda affiliates such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Nusra Front has long focused on battling the Syrian government rather than plotting terrorist attacks against the United States and Europe.
The American officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a program that is classified.
In the summer of 2012, David H. Petraeus, who was then C.I.A. director, first proposed a covert program of arming and training rebels as Syrian government forces bore down on them.
The proposal forced a debate inside the Obama administration, with some of Mr. Obama’s top aides arguing that Syria’s chaotic battlefield would make it nearly impossible to ensure that weapons provided by the C.I.A. could be kept out of the hands of militant groups like the Nusra Front. Mr. Obama rejected the plan.
But he changed his mind the following year, signing a presidential finding authorizing the C.I.A. to covertly arm and train small groups of rebels at bases in Jordan. The president’s reversal came in part because of intense lobbying by foreign leaders, including King Abdullah II of Jordan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who argued that the United States should take a more active role in trying to end the conflict.
Given the code name Timber Sycamore, the covert program began slowly, but by 2015 the C.I.A.-backed rebel groups had made significant progress against Syrian forces, pushing into areas of the country long considered to be government strongholds. The offensive gained momentum after the C.I.A. and Saudi Arabia began supplying the powerful tank-destroying weapons to the rebel groups.
But the rebel push in Idlib, Hama and Latakia Provinces in northern Syria also created problems for Washington. The Nusra Front, often battling alongside the C.I.A.-supported rebel groups, made its own territorial gains.
It was Nusra’s battlefield successes that Mr. Putin used as one justification for the Russian military offensive in Syria, which began in 2015. The Russian campaign, a relentless bombing of the C.I.A.-backed fighters and Nusra militants, battered the rebels and sent them into retreat.