News / Middle East

    US-Trained Syrian Rebels Gave Equipment to al-Qaida Affiliate

    FILE - Fighters led by the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front gather on the Syrian side of the Qalamun hills close to the Lebanese border, Sept. 22, 2014.
    FILE - Fighters led by the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front gather on the Syrian side of the Qalamun hills close to the Lebanese border, Sept. 22, 2014.
    VOA News

    A Syrian rebel commander who recently completed a U.S. training program has told the Pentagon that he surrendered six coalition-provided trucks and ammunition to militants from the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, known as the al-Nusra Front.

    U.S. Central Command says roughly 25 percent of the equipment assigned to that unit was apparently turned over earlier this week in exchange for safe passage within the region.

    After earlier denying reports that some fighters had handed over gear, the Pentagon acknowledged Friday that it had received notification from the New Syrian Forces (NSF) unit.

    "If accurate, the report of NSF members providing equipment to al-Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train-and-equip program guidelines," U.S. Central Command spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder said.

    Earlier this week, the al-Nusra Front tweeted an image of a coalition-issued rifle and claimed that the newest NSF members had handed over all their weapons upon re-entering Syria last week.

    At the time, the Pentagon said the image was an old picture repurposed from the Facebook page of a previously deployed NSF fighter from a different training class.  

    But Friday, Ryder said, "in light of this new information, we wanted to ensure the public was informed as quickly as possible about the facts as we know them at this time."

    Troubled program

    Meanwhile, two senators are asking Defense Secretary Ash Carter to brief them on the administration's review of the Syrian train-and-equip effort.

    Republican Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri sent a letter as the train-and-equip program comes under increasing congressional scrutiny.

    American lawmakers have fumed at its slow pace, and in July, President Barack Obama voiced his frustration with the program, saying, “I have made it clear to my team that we will do more to train and equip the moderate opposition in Syria.”

    In July, al-Nusra abducted a commander and seven fighters from the program’s first graduates just days after they had deployed in Syria, following training in Turkey. The unraveling of the first contingent prompted an outcry on Capitol Hill, and last week senior administration officials defended the program before skeptical lawmakers.  

    General Lloyd Austin, chief of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that no more than five U.S.-trained Syrian fighters were left from the initial graduates — an acknowledgment that the $500 million program to raise an army of Syrian fighters had gone nowhere.  He acknowledged the program might be overhauled.

    Laying blame

    Syrian rebel commanders, who have been loath to volunteer men for the program, say the two biggest problems with the mission are how tightly Washington defines “moderate” and the Obama administration’s insistence that the train-and-equip force can be used only against Islamic State extremists and not against the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

    The rebel fighters say Assad is responsible for many more deaths in Syria than the jihadists. “I told them from the start I wouldn’t offer one man as long as the force was only going after Daesh,” a rebel commander using the Arab acronym for IS told VOA. He said he could see no purpose in weakening his forces, who are mainly fighting Assad’s army, to take on the Islamic State group.

    The al-Nusra Front, a rival to the Islamic State group, has targeted U.S.-backed rebels in Syria. Last year, it routed two rebel militias, the Syria Revolutionaries Front and the Hazzm Movement.

    VOA's Jamie Dettmer contributed to this report.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 2
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    by: joe from: san jose
    September 27, 2015 5:12 PM
    No surprise. We think arming the opposition against in place regime is going to make these barbarians thugs truly love us. When facing a knife in the hand of you own, it is no surprise they will use our help then turn back against us once they got strong and powerful. It seems we never learn from history no our mistakes. We keep making the same dumb mistakes over and over. Amazing.

    by: t dog
    September 27, 2015 11:49 AM
    JESUS is GOD
    In Response

    by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
    September 28, 2015 1:49 AM
    We all claim that JESUS is God, ....so, what's your point?

    by: Enoughalready
    September 26, 2015 9:06 PM
    Can we now put an end to this abysmal failure of a policy. No wonder putin walks all over these guys.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    September 27, 2015 8:57 AM
    Hey Enoughalready _ The US [cause] wasn't worth Americans fighting and dying for, [so what did the US do], Obama and his administration thought others [that had no loyalty or allegiance to the US] would fight and die for their [cause]? .. Mind-blowing ignorance is the Hallmark signature of Obama and his administration?

    by: Mrs Martheson from: Australia
    September 26, 2015 8:19 PM
    US-Trained Syrian Rebels Gave Equipment to al-Qaida Affiliate ... as planned.
    In Response

    by: annymous from: usa
    September 27, 2015 12:13 AM
    what did you mean as planned? is that means Syrian rebel understand that they are dealing with idiot and they have a plan to fool them in advance.

    by: annymous from: usa
    September 26, 2015 7:33 PM
    I wrote to senator Mendez and Mr. John Kerry that arming moderate rebel will go to radical group . both disregard my email l and I was right
    In Response

    by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
    September 27, 2015 1:41 AM
    American law makers are notoriously do not pay any attention to letters or e-mails they receive from refugees, immigrants or Green Card holders. One has to figure out why?

    by: Austin from: USA
    September 26, 2015 7:04 PM
    Time to stop pretending we don't know Turkey = ISIS and AQ Groups

    The first group of US trained rebels were captured upon entry into Syria, because the Turkish government had tipped off the AQ Nusra Front about their entry and location.

    The second group was also sold out to AQ Nusra Front by Turkey.

    There's no spine in these moderate US trained rebels, instead of fighting the enemy they just join the enemy.

    We should arm the Kurds and side with Iran and Russia who are actually helping the Kurds and fighting ISIS and any AQ group.

    But the first step to fighting ISIS is to admit that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey = ISIS

    by: Concerned American
    September 26, 2015 6:36 PM
    Now he is training them like he was trained. WAKE UP

    by: Durward from: BC Canada
    September 26, 2015 6:29 PM
    They are all US trained terrorists and they are all fighting against Assad not against terrorists, The US and their allies are the terrorists.
    Cut the charade, the entire world knows what is going on, you are not fooling anyone but your own citizens.
    Bad enough America is sending it's soldiers to destabilize the middle east and Africa but it's sacrificing those men for ISRAEL's not America's national interests.
    Any politician, General or Admiral more loyal to Israel than America should be shot as traitors!

    by: singoland from: muhamar
    September 26, 2015 6:04 PM
    either:
    1. the military people running this operation are pretty idiotic and incompetent and should be fired for treason;
    2. the people telling the military to run this operation are really, really idiotic and incompetent and should be fired and jailed for stupidity (kinda of what didn't happen to the head of OPM);
    3. the Al Nusra terrorists are dumb enough accept equipment rigged with satellite tracking technology that will guide US bombs directly to their base of operations.

    ...whatever.....

    by: Ed from: Idaho, USA
    September 26, 2015 6:03 PM
    I say throw our lot in with Russia and Assad! Sure Assad resorted to violence early on but, considering the nature of the people there, it now seems to be the only thing they understand! Also, being a member of the minority Alawites, he doesn't exactly command a large religious following, which would be rather frightening when looked at from his standpoint. He's far less violent than ISIS or Al Qaeda, he knows the region well, is Western educated, and is someone we could at least understand and work with. Plus we'd have the might of the Russians on our side and they are willing to commit ground troops, something that experts say is absolutely necessary to defeat ISIS.
    We have to start accepting that we can't always dictate world events nowadays, and then learn to pick the most favorable option that's in our best interest!
    Comments page of 2
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