There was a time when “Abu Ahmad”, a bulky man with a heavy limp, held court in the smoke-filled cafés of southern Turkey. Fellow Syrian opposition leaders looked to him for help; foreign intelligence officers sought his opinion. When he crossed into Syria, he brought bags filled with hundred-dollar bills to hand out to rebel fighters. His comrades received US-approved anti-tank missiles, discreetly delivered at the border.
Some rebels called him the CIA’s man in Syria. Now, he struggles to get his calls returned. “We used to joke, ‘If you want something from Barack Obama, call Abu Ahmad,’” another CIA-backed rebel commander recalls. “If someone in the opposition wanted to meet the Americans, they went to him. Now, guys like us, we’re headed to the rubbish bin of history.”
After two years as the CIA’s “fixer”, distributing arms and planning military operations in Syria, Abu Ahmad was thrown into prison. On his release, he was temporarily forced into hiding, then fell into ignominy in the eyes of fellow rebels. For security reasons, he asked for his name and those of several others who discussed his story to be changed, and their exact location withheld.
The story of his rise and fall offers a rare insight into how the CIA operated within the confines of President Obama’s halfhearted Syria policy. It reveals how the rivalries between US bureaucracies — and, even more importantly, the growing divergence between Washington and its Nato ally Turkey — exacerbated Syria’s mayhem.