CIA Privately Skeptical About New Syria Strategy, Sources Say

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WASHINGTON — At a recent closed-door congressional briefing on the administration’s new strategy to combat the Islamic State, a top CIA official left little doubt among those in the room about the agency’s attitude toward the project.

The official’s muted approach to the briefing dovetails with what senior intelligence community officials tell The Huffington Post is deep behind-the-scenes skepticism, ranging from ambivalence to outright opposition, from within the CIA to the administration’s proposal to task the Department of Defense with arming the so-called moderate Syrian rebels.

The opposition derives from a number of factors. First, the CIA has already been covertly equipping Syrian rebels at the instruction of the White House, but has come to find the fighters increasingly disorganized and radicalized as the conflict goes on, with U.S.-supplied arms winding up in the hands of more radical fighters.

Meanwhile, some turf issues are at play. While officials in the CIA are skeptical of the broader strategy to arm and train the rebels, they are also wary of a plan that would give the Pentagon a responsibility that has so far rested with their agency.

One Democratic member of Congress said that the CIA has made it clear that it doubts the possibility that the administration’s strategy could succeed.

“I have heard it expressed, outside of classified contexts, that what you heard from your intelligence sources is correct, because the CIA regards the effort as doomed to failure,” the congressman said in an email. “Specifically (again without referring to classified information), the CIA thinks that it is impossible to train and equip a force of pro-Western Syrian nationals that can fight and defeat Assad, al-Nusra and ISIS, regardless of whatever air support that force may receive.”

He added that, as the CIA sees it, the ramped-up backing of rebels is an expansion of a strategy that is already not working. “The CIA also believes that its previous assignment to accomplish this was basically a fool’s errand, and they are well aware of the fact that many of the arms that they provided ended..

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