Sat Jul 22, 2017 01:00AM
US Special Operations Commander General Raymond Thomas (File photo)
US Special Operations Commander General Raymond Thomas (File photo)

US Special Operations Forces Commander General Raymond Thomas has confirmed reports about the end of the CIA’s years-long covert program to arm and train militant groups in Syria.

General Thomas told a security forum in Colorado on Friday that the decision by the administration of President Donald Trump was not intended to please Russia, which has been running a military campaign against terrorist groups in Syria since 2015.

“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.”

According to a report by The Washington Post, Trump had decided to end the program a month ago in an alleged attempt to curry favor with Moscow.

The CIA program began in 2013 as part of the efforts by the administration of former President Barack Obama to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but produced no tangible results.

In fact, many of the armed and trained rebels in the $500 million program either defected to Daesh and other radical groups or gave up their weapons.

A Syrian rebel fighter fires a weapon in Ain Tarma, in the eastern Ghouta area, a rebel stronghold east of the capital Damascus, on July 17, 2017.
A Syrian rebel fighter fires a weapon in Ain Tarma, in the eastern Ghouta area, a rebel stronghold east of the capital Damascus, on July 17, 2017.

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Thomas has been the most high-ranking US official to address the report. Both the White House and the CIA have declined to publicly discuss the matter.

He tried to retract the statements soon after his address, telling reporters that his statements did not confirm anything because he was just referring to “public reporting.”

“It is so much more complex than even I can describe, that’s not necessarily an organization that I’ve been affiliated with but a sister, parallel activity that had a tough and, some would argue, impossible mission based on the approach we took,” the general said.

If true, the decision would not end America’s military involvement in Syria. In May, Trump authorized a plan to arm the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces -- a Kurdish militant group – using the Pentagon’s funds.

He also signed off a separate effort by the US military to support other Syrian rebel groups with air strikes, according to the Post.