Trump confirms secret CIA operation in Syria on Twitter

The president denounced details of a Washington Post story, seemingly acknowledging classified intelligence in the process.

A Free Syrian Army fighter takes position close to a military base, near Azaz, Syria, Monday, Dec. 10, 2012. CREDIT: AP Photo/Manu Brabo
A Free Syrian Army fighter takes position close to a military base, near Azaz, Syria, Monday, Dec. 10, 2012. CREDIT: AP Photo/Manu Brabo

President Donald Trump seems to have confirmed a secret CIA operation in Syria on his Twitter account.

In a tweet posted Monday evening, Trump addressed a Washington Post article published last Wednesday, claiming the president was set to end a covert program training and arming U.S.-backed Syrian rebels against dictator Bashar al-Assad. Noting the publication’s links to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who owns the Post, the president lambasted the article before going on to accuse the publication of running “fake news.”

“The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad,” Trump wrote initially, before launching into an extended series of tweets.

Trump’s underlying attack did not appear focused on the story’s central claim — that such a program existed — but instead on the details relating to its end. According to the Post article, Trump’s interest in finding ways to work with Syrian ally Russia played a role in the decision to terminate the effort. Trump reportedly made the decision following a meeting last month with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, in advance of a July 7 meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit.


While the Post drew a connection between the program’s end and Trump’s meeting with Putin, Trump tweeted that the program was “massive, dangerous, and wasteful” — factors that contributed to its end. In doing so, the president essentially confirmed the operation’s existence.

Although the program has not been officially confirmed until now, information about its nuances have been reported before. Launched in 2013 under former President Barack Obama, the program has been shrouded in secrecy. Part of an attempt to persuade Assad to step aside and empower Syrian rebels, the effort seemed to acknowledge an on-the-ground reality that U.S.-backed rebels militias were losing ground in Syria’s ongoing civil war. But four years have done little to change that trend — the war is still raging, and Assad remains in power. Nations like the United States and France have now said removing the dictator is no longer a priority, as attention settles on threats like ISIS.

That’s a dramatic shift for the Trump administration. In April, the U.S. military abruptly fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack orchestrated by Assad. Last month, the White House warned Syria would “pay a heavy price” over future attacks. But now it seems that approach is changing, as evidenced by the end of operations like the one Trump has now confirmed.

Part of this shift is due to Assad’s growing advantage in the war, aided by allies like Iran and Russia — the latter of which has expressed opposition to the CIA program. Ending the operation has been seen as a net gain for the Kremlin by several officials privy to the decision.

“This is a momentous decision,” one official told the Post on condition of anonymity. “Putin won in Syria.”

U.S. Special Operations Commander Tony Thomas also appeared to confirm the end of the CIA program on Friday, but he swiftly walked back his comments, claiming they were based on “public reporting.” Trump, by contrast, has not yet retracted or clarified his remarks about the program’s end. A spokesman for the CIA also declined to comment on Trump’s tweets.


Although Trump has repeatedly criticized others for their mishandling of sensitive intelligence, this was not the first time he disclosed classified information. In May, the president shared intelligence with Russian officials while meeting in the Oval Office. While the source of the information was reported to be Israel, it was unconfirmed until Trump acknowledged as much during a press conference alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.