In a phone interview in January, Tlass told me he had been present at the meetings with the Aleppo activists and the Liwa al-Fatah rebels, and he confirmed their accounts. He said that he had arranged a number of similar meetings with the CIA, and that promises like the ones the officers made in Gaziantep were commonplace—including the indirect promise of arms. “They promised to provide telecommunications devices, and afterward, if the rebels proved effective and honest, then they would [help] provide military support,” he said. Tlass told me that the Americans had kept none of those promises, that not even the communications equipment or hospital supplies had materialized. He then accused America of pushing a dark agenda in Syria—working to keep the war going instead of helping with the overthrow of Assad. “America,” Tlass said, “is trying to prolong the Syrian revolution.”
In June anonymous U.S. officials leaked word to The New York Times that CIA officers were in southern Turkey vetting rebel groups to determine who might receive support from American allies. But Tlass’s suspicion echoed those of many senior rebels and opposition members I spoke with, who had become convinced that rather than help them receive support, America was mainly in the business of keeping it from coming their way.
One influential opposition figure, who is well connected to senior rebels and, like Tlass, once had ties to the Syrian government, said that he’d recently cut off his CIA contacts; while he still considered some officers to be friends, he complained that he was losing credibility among his rebel sources for the broken promises that came from the meetings he’d arranged. “The Americans are using the lies to get information,” he said. “If you ask any rebel in Syria right now, he will say America is our enemy.” He added that officers had even asked him to make a list of rebel officers who could be trained to fire surface-to-air missiles but nothing had apparently ever come of it. (This narrative was echoed by a prominent rebel commander who also told me he’d recently submitted such a list to his CIA contacts at their request. He too was still waiting, though he was more optimistic, and said he thought he detected a new seriousness in the U.S. promises to help. “This is the last chance for America,” he said.)