“In April 2013, President Obama authorized the C.I.A. to begin a program to arm the rebels at a base in Jordan, and more recently the administration decided to expand the training mission with a larger parallel Pentagon program in Saudi Arabia to train “vetted” rebels to battle fighters of the Islamic State, with the aim of training approximately 5,000 rebel troops per year.
So far the efforts have been limited, and American officials said that the fact that the C.I.A. took a dim view of its own past efforts to arm rebel forces fed Mr. Obama’s reluctance to begin the covert operation.
According to the Times account of the CIA report, such missions were most successful when US or allied operatives worked with rebels on the battlefield. Hence the success of the anti-communist “mujahedeen” rebels in Afghanistan; trained and armed with CIA funds, the rebels had direct support from Pakistani intelligence operatives on the ground. But this successful example of CIA intervention “was also seen as a cautionary tale” by the administration, since the jihad against Soviet forces in the 1980s laid the groundwork for the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the rise of al-Qaeda.
The CIA’s apparent self-doubt has fed President Obama’s cautious approach to Syria, and inspired his recent decision to involve the Pentagon in the effort to train and arm local forces fighting ISIS and the Assad regime.