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US Cuts Aid to Syrian Rebel Group for Fighting Assad Regime

Syrian army soldiers chant slogans in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, as they enter a village north of Damascus, Syria, in June 2011. (AP)
Syrian army soldiers chant slogans in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, as they enter a village north of Damascus, Syria, in June 2011. (AP)

On new orders from President Donald Trump, the U.S. military for the first time has cut ties to a Syrian rebel group for doing what the CIA initially trained and equipped them to do -- fight the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"They were a partner force of ours, and we can no longer support them because they don't want to fight ISIS," Army Col. Ryan Dillon said of the Shuhada al-Qaryatayn (Martyrs of Qaryatayn) group that was part of the so-called Vetted Syrian Opposition backed by the U.S.

"This is the first time" that the U.S. has cut support for a Syrian opposition group, Dillon, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said in a video briefing from Baghdad to the Pentagon.

"We are in the process of ceasing our support," and discussions were underway to get back weapons and other equipment supplied by the U.S. to the group, Dillon said. "We are going to retrieve some of the equipment we provided to them to fight ISIS."

He said U.S. policy now is to give support only to groups committed to fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Shuhada al-Qaryatayn violated the policy by leaving the Al Tanf base in Syria near the Jordanian border on a different mission, Dillon said.

The rebel group "wanted to pursue other objectives, and those objectives were not consistent with fighting ISIS," he said.

"Fighting the regime could be one of those objectives," said Dillon, who declined to be more definitive.

Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that Trump ended the CIA's clandestine program supporting rebel groups seeking to topple the Russian-backed Assad regime.

In a July 24 Tweet, Trump appeared to confirm the report while also criticizing the Post report for suggesting that the move could be seen as a concession to Russian President Vladimir Putin in return for more cooperation from Moscow in the fight against ISIS.

"The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad," he tweeted.

The CIA secret plan to arm and equip a "Free Syrian Army" against Assad, begun in 2013, was far from a secret in the region. The program has been marked by problems from the outset, including infighting among the rebels and defections to terror groups.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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