The U.S. House of Representatives will likely vote next week on whether to make significant cuts in the secret funding the CIA employs to train and arm Syrian rebels who are battling forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and Islamic extremists. The House Intelligence Committee’s 2016 Intelligence Authorization Act includes a 20 percent cut in one of the CIA’s largest covert programs: It has an annual budget of almost $1 billion.
“There is a great deal of concern on a very bipartisan basis with our strategy in Syria,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the intelligence panel, told the Washington Post in a report published Saturday. Schiff echoed sentiments expressed by other lawmakers who have questioned the ability of the U.S. to participate in the rebuilding of Syria after the end of the civil war that began in 2011.
The U.S. has trained and equipped about 10,000 fighters in Syria in recent years. The Post estimates each fighter has cost U.S. taxpayers about $100,000.
Assad has continued to lose territory to various rebel groups, including the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army, which has promoted a secular form of government, as well as the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and the Islamic State group, formerly known as either ISIL or ISIS.
The CIA and the White House are battling increasing political skepticism over the efficacy of President Barack Obama’s policies in Syria, where Iran and Russia continue to support Assad. This month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went as far as to urge the U.S. to coordinate with the Assad regime on airstrikes against jihadists.