A matter of days after 54 American-trained moderate Syrian Rebel Army fighters reported for duty, the New York Times reports that the commander of the unit plus seven of his fighters—including his second-in-command—have been kidnapped by the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda franchise, while they were returning from a meeting in Turkey.
The first published version of the Times report reads like a madcap satire of foreign policy:
The American trainees were expecting to take on a more central role in Syria, now that the United States and Turkey say they are planning to try to sweep Islamic State fighters from a northern segment of the country, with Syrian insurgents as their ground force.
The insurgents who would participate in the cooperative effort to rout ISIS from a slice of Syria near the Turkish border remains to be worked out, but they would be likely to include American-trained, American-vetted fighters from the Pentagon program, as well as a larger group of fighters trained covertly in a different C.I.A. effort. That program has a different goal: ousting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
The C.I.A. program suffered its own setback late last year, when the Nusra Front defeated the groups trained by the C.I.A., the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and Harakat Hazm. The Nusra Front also seized some of the sophisticated antitank missiles the United States had provided to the groups, which were effectively dismantled.
This unit was allegedly going to take a “central role” in “sweeping Islamic State fighters” from northern Syria, while an entirely different CIA program was training a “larger group of fighters” to take out Assad. The Nusra Front now have the commander of the tiny unit that was somehow supposed to lay waste to ISIS.
Members of the moderate forces protested that they felt the Obama administration was not taking their defense seriously. Without certain pieces of equipment, fighting and defeating Nusra, much less the Islamic State, was near impossible:
In an interview shortly before he returned to Syria from Turkey this week, Mr. Hassan had fretted that the Pentagon had yet to provide night-vision goggles that he had requested. He said some fighters were threatening to quit because he could not pay for their expenses. He also said his fighters had received assurances that American warplanes would protect them if they were attacked by government forces, not just the Islamic State militants they were slated to fight.
Mr. Hassan said he had asked American trainers “if they are going to protect us.” The reply, he said, fell short of expectations: “Our government still hasn’t announced anything that includes fighting the Assad regime.”
The Times report includes rebels explicitly stating they have no intention of fighting ISIS or al-Qaeda unless the U.S. knocks over the Assad regime, potential recruits refusing to sign up for the American program because they think the “vetting process” is too strict, and another insurgent commander saying American recruiters trusted the wrong Syrian commanders to organize an effective fighting force. The program that produced the commander who was just captured by terrorists started with a paltry 1,200 recruits and lost 90 percent of them before training even began.
Now, eight men who trusted the United States government and received training from our Pentagon, eight men with the guts to walk back into their insanely dangerous country as our military allies, have been captured by enemies of the United States. What is Barack Obama going to do about it?