The Pentagon has confirmed that US-trained Syrian rebels gave weapons to al-Nusra Islamists.
On Friday the Pentagon said that a group of US-trained Syrian rebels had handed over ammunition and equipment to al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the country, al-Nusra Front, purportedly in exchange for safe passage.
They handed over pick-up trucks and ammunition. A spokesman for the military described the move as “very concerning”.
Is this just another embarrassing setback for the US effort to “train and equip” moderate Syrian rebels to fight IS in Syria?
Middle East Eye reports: The startling acknowledgement contrasted with earlier Pentagon denials of reports that some fighters had either defected or handed over gear.
“Unfortunately, we learned late today that the NSF (New Syrian Forces) unit now says it did in fact provide six pickup trucks and a portion of their ammunition to a suspected al-Nusra Front (group),” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.
Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for Central Command (CENTCOM), which is overseeing efforts against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria, said the fighters had handed over the gear in exchange for safe passage in the al-Nusra operating area.
“If accurate, the report of NSF members providing equipment to al-Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train-and-equip programme guidelines,” Ryder said.
Ryder added that the pickup vehicles and ammunition represented about 25 percent of the equipment issued to the group by the US-led coalition.
“We are using all means at our disposal to look into what exactly happened and determine the appropriate response,” Ryder said.
A defence official told AFP that according to the rebels, there had not been any defections, but he stressed: “We only know what they have told us.”
CENTCOM says it learned around 1pm on Friday that the weapons and supplies had been handed over to al-Nusra. Ryder had reiterated earlier in the day that no supplies had been handed over, despite reports, according to Reuters.
The initial denial had come on Wednesday, when CENTCOM issued a statement, saying: “All Coalition-issued weapons and equipment are under the positive control of NSF [New Syrian Forces] fighters.”
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