Reports from several sources earlier this week claimed that the second wave of seventy “moderate” Syrian rebels trained and equipped by the United States had either surrendered or defected to the local al-Qaeda franchise, the Nusra Front. The Pentagon has cast doubt on these accounts.
The Nusra Front wiped out the first group of rebels from the American-backed New Syrian Force, leaving only four or five of them still on the field.
On Wednesday, the Pentagon denied reports of the second wave’s defection–or, at least, both the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command said they believe the reports are false.
“I just wanted to tell you that we believe those reports to be false,” said Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis to reporters, as quoted by the Rudaw news service. “We have no information at all to suggest that’s true.”
Responding to reports that the New Syrian Force recruits handed their American weapons and gear over to al-Qaeda, Davis said, “All coalition-issued weapons and equipment are under the positive control of New Syrian Force fighters.”
The Pentagon characterized reports that its Syrian unit had defected as propaganda from the Nusra Front, intended to discredit the moderate rebel force.
CENTCOM also said it has “no indication that any New Syrian Forces fighters have defected to Al Nusra Front, contrary to several press and social media reports,” and said it expected to continue supporting the program “as part of the campaign to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL.”
None of these statements would appear to address the third rumor floating around Syria: the new recruits did not join Nusra or surrender to them, but they have gone rogue and rejected U.S. command to fight against either ISIS or the Assad regime on their own. The unit commander’s Facebook page contains statements to this effect.
The Pentagon initially responded to this by denying that the commander in question, Major Anais Obaid (a.k.a. “Abu Zayd”), was a member of the New Syrian Force–but this denial was later downgraded to a bit of hair-splitting over whether he was personally “trained” by American specialists.
The Nusra Front picked up 1,500 additional fighters this week, according to reports that a brigade of Chechen, Tajik, and Uzbek militants has sworn allegiance to them, motivated by Russia’s military buildup.
Also, it turns out that the Syrian refugee infamously tripped by a Hungarian journalist in a viral video is a member of the Nusra Front, according to accusations from Syrian Kurds, who claim to have proof he has taken up arms against them.