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The CIA Trusted Commander Program in Syria
The CIA program to supply Syrian rebel groups to fight Assad and others was secret. After key leaders were vetted they were labeled "trusted commanders" as far as the CIA could detect. All very relative in warfare. In this war, alliances change like wind- former allies become foes, former foes, friends.
In some cases, the weapon shipments received had to be rationed and on average these "trusted commanders" would receive 16 bullets a month. Many of the men under the commanders have switched sides to al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda group, because of better pay and plentiful weapons. The main complaints that once vetted, the commanders request weapons and only receive 5-20% of them. The program started before the rise of ISIS and since then has gone into decline before ending. Obama did not think ISIS was a threat when the CIA program had been approved.
Obama's plan to build a rebel force in Saudi Arabia is to fight ISIS and attracting commanders in Syria is difficult because they are interested in fighting Assad in Syria, The trickle of weapons and supplies to those who fight Assad and armed by the CIA partially actually pissed the fighters off and joined al-Nusra, if America was not going to "step up to the plate". So far, the CIA has trained 5000 men in Syria and even though Obama was reluctant, the CIA told him that such an operation would make little difference even force it started. Yet, in 2013, Obama approved it because the Arabs were demanding the USA do something.
The program was operated from Turkish soil with Turkish help. The rebel commanders would meet CIA operatives in hotels in Southern Turkey and had to sign a contract that would commit their men under him to fight Assad with weapons supplied. The CIA did not trust the Free Syrian Army, so weapons were sent directly to commanders. Requests for weapons and supplies would be sent by UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia mostly. The delays in getting their requests approved was often two weeks and by then, the need was not needed. During last year when the rebel forces were threatening Assad's forces, they requested more ammunition but the request was rejected. This caused many fighters under the commander to quit and join the enemy. Each of the men in the commander's unit were paid once a month in fresh, mint, US $100 bills. Most of them received $100-150.00, and the commander $200. But, when compared to al-Nusra, it was little, their fighters received $200-300.00.
Commanders often received only a fraction of what they wanted: out of 1000 rifles requested, only 36 were provided. Eventually, TOW anti-tank weapons were supplied in very small numbers and in order to get more ammo, the commander had to return the weapon at border crossings with Turkey. They had to prove they were not wasting the ammunition and those who were better shots with more kills received more TOW missiles. The best TOW teams would received three times as many as other less effective teams. But the Syrian rebels were baffled when their units had captured 36 Syrian tanks in good running order. The CIA refused to provide shells or fuel, so all of the tanks just remained idled.
After the US airstrikes on al-Nusra occurred, al-Nusra and the rebels were no longer allied. The rebels were begging for more weapons to fight the stronger Nusra group, but it was refused because Obama did not consider them as bad as ISIS. Many of the stronger rebel groups decided not to fight Nusra because the local populations would turn against them. Other rebel groups simply stopped attacking and consolidated what they had won like little kingdoms.
Eventually, Nusra overwhelmed a key rebel faction with CIA supplied weapons. The rebels either ran- every man for themselves- or joined Nusra. Nusra got all of the CIA supplied weapons and some of the idle tanks.
The whole CIA operation simply fell apart with the rise of ISIS. Focus changed. Syria was much less of a threat- a backwater to Iraq. The rebels thought America would provide them the needed strength, yet, it was just a whimper that made them angry to be on the same side.