Josh Rogin writes: As Congress struggles to pass a bill to fund the government for the rest of the year, one curious and significant item was left on the cutting room floor: a request from the Barack Obama administration for $300 million to expand the secret CIA program to arm the “moderate” Syrian rebels.
The request, which administration officials had been lobbying for in recent weeks, was held up by the House Intelligence Committee, which has serious doubts about the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups that for years have been receiving arms secretly from the U.S. and its allies, two administration officials told me. Without the money, Syrian opposition leaders say, the FSA will struggle to hold its remaining positions in northern Syria, much less make progress against Islamic State and the Bashar al-Assad regime.
“The requested funds are a crucial indication of the partnership between the United States and Syrian freedom fighters. This comes at a particularly important time,” said Oubai Shahbandar, a senior adviser for the Syrian National Coalition.
Nonetheless, not everyone in the White House will lament the decision to drop it from the spending bill: Congress’s disenchantment with the Syrian rebels is shared by many officials inside the administration, following the rebels’ losses to Assad, IS and the al-Nusra Front in northern Syrian cities such as Idlib. There is particular frustration that these setbacks resulted in some advanced American weaponry falling into extremist hands.
Reflecting that dissatisfaction, the Obama administration has taken a series of steps in recent weeks to distance the U.S. from the moderate rebels in the north, by cutting off their weapons flow and refusing to allow them to meet with U.S. military officials, right at the time they are struggling to survive in and around Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. [Continue reading…]