WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Department of Defense has revamped its effort to assist so-called moderate Syrian rebels on the ground, shifting its focus away from training to providing them with weapons and other equipment to fight the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
Pentagon officials have confirmed that only the leaders of the units that will receive the U.S. taxpayer-funded military equipment will be vetted.
U.S.-supplied weapons are expected to be channeled through vetted commanders to thousands of Syrian fighters.
The Obama administration kick-started its new program by airdropping a reported 50 tons of small arms ammunition and grenades to rebels in northern Syria.
“Coalition forces conducted an airdrop Sunday in northern Syria to resupply local counter-ISIL ground forces as they conduct operations against ISIL,” Cmdr. Elissa Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told Breitbart News.
“The airdrop was conducted by U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft flying from the U.S. Central Command [Centcom] area of responsibility,” she added. “The aircraft delivery includes small arms ammunition to resupply counter-ISIL ground forces so that they can continue operations against ISIL. All aircraft exited the drop area safely.”
Smith said she could not identify the groups that received the military supplies “due to operational security.”
However, unnamed U.S. officials quoted by various news outlets have said members of the Syrian Arab Coalition, made up of various Arab groups, would receive support under the new U.S. effort to fight ISIS in Syria.
The faction Jaysh al-Qasas, which worked with ISIS in 2014, is part of the Syrian Arab Coalition, Voice of America reported October 6.
U.S.-supplied military equipment will not end up in enemy hands, according to Cmdr. Smith.
Sunday’s “airdrop provided ammunition to Syrian groups whose leaders were appropriately vetted by the United States and have been fighting to remove ISIL from northern Syria. The airdrop includes small arms ammunition,” she told Breitbart News.
“We are very confident in our ability to deliver cargo to its intended location,” added Smith. “We have no indication that ISIL was able to intercept any of these supplies.”
The recent airdrop comes less than a month after Syrian rebels, trained under a DOD effort that was dropped on Friday, surrendered their weapons to the al Nusra Front, a Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate.
The Pentagon announced on Friday that instead of training the Syrian rebels, it would “provide equipment packages and weapons to a select group of vetted leaders and their units so that over time they can make a concerted push into territory still controlled by ISIL.”
“We will monitor the progress these groups make and provide them with air support as they take the fight to ISIL,” added the Pentagon. “This focus on equipping and enabling will allow us to reinforce the progress already made in countering ISIL in Syria.”
“We will maintain communication with the leadership of these groups. As they follow through on commitments they make to take the fight to ISIL we will provide additional support,” Smith told Breitbart News. “As we have said this will unfold over a matter of months and we will monitor their progress throughout.”