For Syr­ian rebels, Trump win adds to un­cer­tainty

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

BEIRUT/AM­MAN: On the eve of Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion vic­tory, mem­bers of a Western-backed Syr­ian rebel group met US of­fi­cials to ask about the out­look for arms ship­ments they have re­ceived to fight Pres­i­dent Bashar AlAs­sad. They were told the pro­gram would con­tinue un­til the end of the year, but any­thing more would de­pend on the next US ad­min­is­tra­tion, a rebel of­fi­cial at the meet­ing said. When Trump takes of­fice in Jan­uary, it may stop al­to­gether.

The pres­i­dent-elect has sig­nalled op­po­si­tion to US sup­port for the rebels, and an over­haul of pol­icy on Syria. The mil­i­tary aid pro­gram over­seen by the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency has given arms and train­ing to mod­er­ate rebels in co­or­di­na­tion with Turkey, Saudi Ara­bia, Qatar, Jor­dan and others.

It helped to sup­port these rebels, fight­ing un­der the Free Syr­ian Army ban­ner, as ji­hadist groups linked to AlQaeda emerged as a ma­jor force in a war ap­proach­ing its sixth an­niver­sary. US of­fi­cials de­clined to com­ment on any meet­ings with rebel groups, and pre­vi­ously have not com­mented on the CIA pro­gram given its covert na­ture.

But Trump has in­di­cated he could aban­don the rebels to fo­cus on fight­ing Is­lamic State which con­trol ter­ri­tory in east­ern and cen­tral Syria. He might even co­op­er­ate against IS with Rus­sia, As­sad’s most pow­er­ful ally, which has been bomb­ing the rebels for over a year in western Syria.

As­sad, in an in­ter­view pub­lished on Tues­day, said Trump would be a “nat­u­ral ally” if he de­cides to “fight the ter­ror­ists”. The rebels are look­ing on the bright side. They say sup­port via the US-backed pro­gram has been in­ad­e­quate and Wash­ing­ton has stopped Saudi Ara­bia from giv­ing them more pow­er­ful weapons.

So the rebels hope a more iso­la­tion­ist United States will give re­gional states a free hand, al­low­ing Saudi Ara­bia to pro­vide the anti-air­craft mis­siles Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has ve­toed. The rebel of­fi­cial said there had been no con­tact with US of­fi­cials since Trump’s win. But were US sup­port to end and “this veto lifted”, that would be a good out­come, he said. “Ev­ery­body is an­a­lyz­ing, there are pos­i­tive ex­pec­ta­tions, there are neg­a­tive ex­pec­ta­tions - but noth­ing is yet clear,” the of­fi­cial said.

The prospect of a shift in US pol­icy comes at a dark time for the re­bel­lion. Rus­sia on Tues­day es­ca­lated its mil­i­tary cam­paign in sup­port of As­sad, draw­ing for the first time on an air­craft car­rier it has sent to the re­gion. As­sad and his al­lies are tight­en­ing their grip on rebel-held east­ern Aleppo, where heavy air strikes have re­sumed and in­sur­gents have failed to break the siege. — AFP

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