US-trained Syrian rebels in equipment exchange with al-Qaida affiliates
Pick-up trucks and ammunition given to al-Nusra Front rebels in exchange for safe passage, says US military
Reuters in Washington
25 September 2015
Syrian rebels trained by the US gave some of their equipment to the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front in exchange for safe passage, said a spokesman for the US military.
The rebels surrendered six pick-up trucks and some ammunition, or about one-quarter of their issued equipment, to a suspected al-Nusra intermediary on
21/22 September in exchange for safe passage, said Col Patrick Ryder.
"If accurate, the report of NSF [New Syrian Forces] members providing equipment to al-Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train-and-equip program guidelines," said Ryder.
US Central Command, which oversees US military operations in the Middle East, was told of the equipment surrender at around 1 p.m on Friday Earlier in the day Ryder said all weapons and equipment issued to the rebels remained under their control.
The news is the most recent sign of trouble in a fledgling military effort to train fighters to take on the Islamic State militant group in Syria, where a four and a half year civil war has killed about 250,000 people and caused nearly half of Syria's prewar population of 23 million to flee.
A top US general told Congress last week that only a handful of the rebels are still fighting in Syria, though US military officials said this week that dozens more have since joined them.
US officials told Reuters that a review is underway that could result in scaling back and repositioning the program.
The al-Nusra Front development came as Lebanon's Shia group Hezbollah welcomed Russia's military buildup in Syria, saying it was the failure of the US-led campaign against Isis that had forced Moscow's hand.
Both Russia and Hezbollah back Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad. Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah told the group's al-Manar TV that increased Russian support for Assad included highly advanced weapons systems, warplanes and helicopters.
Russia has stepped up its military involvement in Syria while pressing for Damascus to be included in international efforts to fight Isis, a demand Washington rejects.
Nasrallah said Washington's own campaign against Isis had been a "devastating failure".
"The failure of America and the international coalition to bring defeat to Daesh [Isis] was one of the reasons which called or pushed Russia to also come, and to get directly involved," he said.