WASHINGTON — Key lawmakers have moved to slash funding for a secret CIA operation to train and arm rebels in Syria, a move that federal officials said reflects rising skepticism of the effectiveness of the agency program and the Obama administration’s strategy in the Middle East.
The House Intelligence Committee recently voted unanimously to cut as much as 20 percent of the classified funds flowing into a CIA program that officials said has become one of the agency’s largest covert operations overseas, with a budget approaching $1 billion a year.
Opposition leaders in southern Syria, where the CIA-trained fighters are concentrated, said the groups have recently become better organized and more effective in their use of heavier weapons, including U.S.-made TOW anti-tank missiles.
“They have coherent command and control and have unified Sunni groups,” said Oubai Shahbandar, a former top adviser to the opposition leadership who maintains regular contact with rebels on the ground. Moderate militias have kept control of border crossings into Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and are fighting on the outskirts of Damascus.