After several dispatches from Syria reported that the few remaining American-backed rebel fighters have been compromised by the al-Nusra Front, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, U.S. Central Command released a statement late Friday confirming that the U.S.-armed New Syrian Forces had delivered equipment and vehicles to the jihadi outfit.
Col. Patrick Ryder, the U.S. Central Command spokesperson, said in a statement:
Today the [New Syrian Forces] unit contacted Coalition representatives and informed us that on Sept. 21-22 they gave six pick-up trucks and a portion of their ammunition to a suspected Al Nusra Front intermediary, which equates to roughly 25 percent of their issued equipment.
“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,” he added. “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.”
He went on to say, “We are using all means at our disposal to look into what exactly happened and determine the appropriate response.”
The al-Nusra Front is one of the most prominent Sunni jihadi groups on the front lines against the Assad regime in Syria. It is recognized by al-Qaeda as the Syrian branch of its global franchise. Its ultimate goal in Syria is similar to that of the Islamic State (ISIS) – to see the overthrow of Assad and install a Sunni emirate in Damascus that is part of a worldwide Caliphate.
The Pentagon’s train and equip program in Syria had initially targeted a fighting force of 5,400 pro-Western fighters in year one (and another 5,400 in years two and three), and it is backed by a $500 million budget. But the program has been a dismal failure by all objective measures. CENTCOM General Lloyd Austin said last week that only “four or five” U.S.-trained rebels remain on the ground in Syria.
For years, analysts have been warning that the U.S.-backed “vetted moderate” fighters were not being placed under proper scrutiny in clearing the individuals for U.S. arms and support.
President Obama claimed in 2014 that there was a substantial “vetted” opposition and that the U.S. needed to move quickly to back those forces.
“We have a Free Syrian Army and a moderate opposition that we have steadily been working with that we have vetted,” President Obama said in advocating for the program. “They have been on the defensive, not just from ISIL, but also from the Assad regime. And what-you know, if you recall, at the West Point speech that I gave, I said, we need to put more resources into the moderate opposition,” he added.