As the U.S. military's role in Iraq's Counterterrorism Service (CTS) dwindles, the CIA is stepping in and "ramping up" its role with the unit, The Wall Street Journal reports on Tuesday.
Citing unnamed U.S. officials, the WSJ reports that the increased CIA role is in an effort to prevent spillover from the war in Syria by helping CTS fight al-Qaeda in Iraq, which reportedly has ties to Syria-based Jabhat al Nusra, described in media reports as an "Islamist extremist group."
In December, the State Department designated al Nusra as a terrorist organization and an alias for al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Al Nusra, Agence France-Presse has reported, "has evolved into a strong fighting force leading attacks on battlefronts throughout the country."
The shift from U.S. military involvement to CIA involvement with the CTS "will allow the U.S. to covertly help" Iraq's counterterrorism efforts, the WSJ reports an official as saying.
The New York Times noted CIA involvement in Syria last week, reporting: "The United States has also been training a select cadre of Syrian rebels in Jordan under a covert program run by the C.I.A., officials have said."
At a joint news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal in Riyadh last week, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters the U.S. would help its "friends empower the Syrian opposition," and while countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia were sending arms to Syrian rebels, "The moderate opposition has the ability to make sure that the weapons are getting to them and not to the wrong hands."
But he said that "there is no guarantee that one weapon or another might not fall in the wrong hands."