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

Fighters from the Free Syrian Army battle against the Islamic State (IS) group north of the embattled city of Aleppo on October 10, 2016

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 U.S. 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.

According to unnamed U.S. officials, Trump made the decision to ditch it after consultations with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo before his July 7 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Germany, media said.

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."

Other former and current officials told the Washington Post that the Trump decision is a major concession to Russia.

Some analysts also voiced concern that the move will empower more radical groups in Syria.

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

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and Washington Post