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Reports: U.S. Drops CIA Support For Anti-Assad Syrian Rebels

Free Syrian Army fighters firing an antiaircraft weapon in a rebel-held area of Aleppo in December

U.S. President Donald Trump decided a month ago to halt the CIA's covert program to equip and train rebel groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's army, media reported on July 19.

The decision was intended to show willingness to work with Russia in Syria, which wants to preserve its ally Assad's rule, Reuters and the Washington Post reported, citing anonymous officials.

The CIA program began in 2013 as an effort by then-President Barack Obama to overthrow Assad, but produced little success.

Trump made the decision to scrap it after an Oval Office meeting with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo ahead of his July 7 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a Group of 20 summit in Germany, according to he reports.

It was not part of U.S.-Russian negotiations on a cease-fire in southwestern Syria, media said.

One official told Reuters that the United States was not making a major concession, given Assad's grip on power, "but it's a signal to Putin that the administration wants to improve ties to Russia."

But The Washington Post reported that some current and former officials who have supported the program cast the move as a major concession.

The newspaper quoted one current official as saying that it was a "momentous decision” and adding: “Putin won in Syria.”

It said the official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a covert program.

Before assuming office, Trump said he might end support for the Free Syrian Army and give priority to the fight against Islamic State (IS) extremists by rebel groups that the United States continues to arm.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, declined to comment on the reports when asked by journalists on July 20.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and The Washington Post