The New York Times reports: The United States and its allies have spent many millions of dollars backing Syrian opposition fighters they deem relatively moderate and secular, and civilian groups whose work on small businesses and local councils they billed as the cornerstone of Syria’s future.
But the very Syrians who benefited — and risked their lives in the process — now say that investment is in danger of going down the drain, and they see little urgency from Washington, diplomatic or military, to save it.
“What are you going to do, other than statements?” Zakaria Malahifji, the political chief of one of the largest rebel groups given weapons and salaries by the C.I.A. and its counterparts in several European and Arab states, demanded in a recent message to contacts at the French Embassy.
In nearly five years of war and insurrection, many Syrians have been repeatedly disillusioned by what they saw as a mismatch between tough American rhetoric against the Syrian government and comparatively modest efforts to aid some of its opponents. President Obama said President Bashar al-Assad must go, and drew a red line over the use of chemical weapons, but backed off on both, diminishing anti-government Syrians’ trust.
But the confusion and despair has reached a new level over the last week, as forces backing Mr. Assad have pushed farther north into Aleppo Province, sending tens of thousands of new refugees to the Turkish border. With insurgent groups losing troops and territory, their villages shattered by Russian warplanes, civilians and fighters have in recent days used phrases like “no hope,” “it’s finished” and “it’s over.”
“Bye-bye, revolution,” Abu al-Haytham, a spokesman for Thuwwar al-Sham, another rebel group supported through the C.I.A. program, said in a text message on Friday from Tal Rifaat, a town in northern Aleppo that is increasingly threatened by the government advance.
American-backed insurgents have long been used to the American stance in recent years, that the United States did not want them to actually win the war — lest a sudden toppling of Mr. Assad lead to Islamist rule — but wanted to prevent them from losing for long enough to pressure the government to negotiate for a political solution.
Now they fear that the United States and its allies may actually let them lose. [Continue reading…]