21 October 2014
CIA Study finds that past attempts to arm foreign forces covertly had a minimal impact on the outcome of conflicts
The New York Times recently reported that a still-classified C.I.A review, one of several such studies commissioned in 2012 and 2013 by the Obama administration, concluded that many past attempts by the agency to arm foreign forces covertly had a minimal impact on the long-term outcome of a conflict and proved even less effective when militias fought without any direct American support on the ground.
The one exception that the report found was when the C.I.A. helped arm and train mujahedeen rebels fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan during the 1980s which slowly chipped away at the Soviet war effort. Yet the New York Times has labeled this as a cautionary tale rather than a success story, as some of the very mujahedeen fighters, that had received U.S. support, later formed the core of Al Qaeda and used Afghanistan as a base to plan the September 11 attacks.
Such findings translate into more recent events. According to The New York Times, the reports were commissioned during the Obama Administration’s fractured debate about whether or not to tread into the Syrian civil war and the bleak portrayal fueled skepticism as well as concerns that despite reasonable measures of care, weapons could ultimately end up with groups linked to Al Qaeda, like the Nusra Front.
The same source points out that ultimately, in April 2013, President Obama authorised a revised C.I.A. plan to begin a program to arm and train the Syrian rebels fighting Assad’s regime at a base in Jordan. Recently, however, the administration decided to expand the training mission with a larger, parallel Pentagon program in Saudi Arabia and in a bid to combat the Islamic State, the program aims at training approximately 5000 rebel troops per year.