After days of insisting that all American gear was under the “positive control” of U.S.-trained New Syrian Force rebels, the Pentagon finally admitted over the weekend that al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front seized vehicle and ammunition from the token “moderate” force.
On Monday, the administration came closer to admitting that the commander of the force has gone rogue and possibly taken some or all of his 71 troops with him.
The news comes from the Daily Beast, which has been relentlessly pressing Pentagon officials about reports that New Syrian Force commander Anas Ibrahim Obaid (alias “Aby Zayd”) has renounced U.S. control and struck out on his own, a claim Obaid himself evidently made on his Facebook page.
The situation seems to be worse than originally rumored, because the Pentagon has lately been insisting that Obaid was not the leader of the unit, because he failed to pass the vetting process for the program. That turns out to be true, sort of. It seems Obaid was not in charge of the new team of 71 rebels when they entered Syria, after being trained outside its borders. He hooked up with them after they entered the country and apparently took command of the unit. It also looks like he is the “intermediary” that arranged for vehicles and ammunition to be handed over to al-Qaeda in exchange for safe passage.
The official line from CENTCOM spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder:
Syria is a very complicated battlefield with [ISIS], Al Nusra and the moderate and vetted opposition’s area of control frequently and sometimes quickly shifting. This is a battlefield situation in which the moderate and vetted opposition continues to face threats on multiple fronts, including from various extremist groups. It’s important to be clear eyed about the conditions in which these forces operate, the groups working against them, and the need to overcome the challenges they have encountered and will continue to face.
In this particular instance, the [vetted] commander leading the [U.S. trained] graduates self-reported to coalition forces that under threat from Al Nusra, they surrendered six trucks and some ammunition to a suspected Al Nusra Front intermediary to secure safe passage. We will look at what we can do to prevent such a situation in the future, but given the complexity of the battlefield it is not possible to eliminate all risk. We are using all means at our disposal to look into what exactly happened and determine the appropriate response.
According to the Daily Beast, sources within Syria identified that commander as Obaid. He has also been caught on video entering a Syrian city with the new batch of U.S.-backed recruits. This “suggested that the commander somehow managed to make himself the leader of the troops who passed the U.S. vetting system that he’d failed,” as well as meaning Obaid “had direct access to weapons and equipment provided by the U.S.”