Three years after the CIA began secretly shipping lethal aid to armed groups fighting against Syrian government, battlefield losses and fears that a Donald Trump administration will abandon them have left tens of thousands of opposition fighters weighing their alternatives.
Among the options, say U.S. officials, regional experts and the armed groups themselves, are a closer alliance with better-armed al-Qaeda and other extremist groups, receipt of more sophisticated weaponry from states in Gulf region opposed to a U.S. pullback, and adoption of more traditional guerrilla tactics, including sniper and other small-scale attacks on both Syrian and Russian targets.
Trump has made clear that his priority in Syria is the separate fight against the Islamic State, ideally in cooperation with Russia and the Syrian government, as well as other allies. While still vague about his plans, the president-elect has rejected the Obama administration’s view that ending the war and bringing the syrian government to the negotiating table are ultimately key to victory over the Islamic militants, and indicated he will curtail support for the opposition.
Trump has repeatedly dismissed the armed groups, saying, “We have no idea who these people are.”
“My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS,” he told the Wall Street Journal last month, using another name for the Islamic State.