The Pentagon's $500 Million Syrian Rebel Force Defeated in First Battle

Naji Dahi
August 4, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) Anti-Media previously highlighted the failure of the Obama administration’s plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL). While the plan was to train and equip 5,600 moderate Syrian rebels, only 54 rebels actually crossed the border from Turkey into Syria.

On July 31, these rebels, known as Division 30, were attacked by al-Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. They performed poorly in the firefight and had to withdraw from their base near the town of Azaz.  As the Associated Press reported,

“Clashes between members of al-Qaida’s [al-Nusra Front] branch in Syria and a rebel faction in the country’s north believed to have been trained by the U.S. government have stopped after the rebels left their headquarters, activists said Saturday…Rami Abdurrahman…said members of the Division 30 faction fled to a nearby area controlled by a Syrian Kurdish militia. Abu al-Hassan Marea…confirmed Saturday that Division 30 fighters have withdrawn from their headquarters. Abdurrahman and Marea said Division 30 had less than 60 fighters and that on Friday alone the group lost five fighters and 18 others were wounded.”

Furthermore, there are reports that a number of the moderate fighters were captured by the al-Nusra Front. The Pentagon has denied these reports, but to affirm its claim, al-Nusra Front posted a video of the captured fighters on its Youtube page. According to AFP (via Yahoo News),

“Al-Qaeda’s Syria branch has posted a video purportedly showing its capture last week of members of a US-trained rebel force it accuses of aiding US-led air strikes against its fighters. The Pentagon denied on Thursday that any graduates of its training programme for moderate rebels had been captured in Syria. The video released by Al-Nusra…depicts five men walking through a field in a straight line, hands behind their heads, supervised by one hooded man and one armed man. One of the apparently detained men tells the camera he was recruited by the US, through intermediaries, to receive training in Turkey for a month and a half. He said the trainees were each given an M16 assault rifle and some cash to ‘fight Al-Nusra’ in Syria.”

To add insult to injury, there are reports that the commanders of the 54 U.S. trained and equipped rebels have also been captured by the al-Nusra Front rebels. As The Telegraph reports,

“Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists kidnapped the commanders of a US-trained rebel faction operating in northern Syria on Wednesday, sources said, in another blow for the Pentagon’s train-and-equip program for Syrian rebels. A statement issued Wednesday by the Division 30 Infantry group accused the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, of taking the Division’s commander, Colonel Nadim Al-Hassan, and his companions in the northern countryside of Aleppo province.”

The failure to fight back against al-Nusra is all the more catastrophic since the pro-U.S. rebels were aided by U.S. airstrikes during the firefight. Despite U.S. airstrikes, the pro-U.S. fighters could not repel the al-Nusra fighters and had to vacate the base they were operating from. According to the Los Angeles Times,

“The policy shift came to light after the first group of several dozen U.S.-vetted and trained fighters were drawn into a firefight Friday by the Nusra Front, a militant group linked to Al Qaeda, in northern Syria. American warplanes soon swept in to help defend the fighters, the first time U.S. aircraft had directly supported them in a battle.”

The $500 million program that was supposed to produce a fighting force of 5,600 pro-U.S. rebels per year only produced 54 rebels. Furthermore, these rebels are no better at fighting than the U.S.-equipped and trained Iraqi army, an army that consistently runs away from fights with ISIS rebels. Despite U.S. airstrikes, these rebels fled the fight and allowed their commanders to be captured by the al-Nusra Front. Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Centre think-tank, argued that

“…the capture of its fighters could deal ‘a mortal blow’ to the reputation of the US’s train-and-equip programme in Syria.”

“The simple reality here is that any explicitly US-trained rebels effectively have a target set on their backs,” he observed.

The most shocking part is that American intelligence officials assumed the local al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra Front, would not attack Division 30, but would welcome them as allies in the fight against the Islamic State. According to the New York Times,

“American military trainers…did not anticipate an assault from the Nusra Front. In fact, officials said on Friday, they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State. ‘This wasn’t supposed to happen like this,’ said one former senior American official, who was working closely on Syria issues until recently, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments.” [emphasis added]

After 14 years of telling the American public that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are enemies of the United States, U.S. officials and trainers now want to believe that al-Qaeda would willingly become an ally in the U.S.’s war against the Islamic State. This is based on the old adage that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Unfortunately, this is not so. The Al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda in Syria) can be the enemy of Islamic State and the enemy of the United States.

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Naji Dahi joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in June of 2015. His topics of interest include American politics, Middle East politics, foreign policy, electric cars, electric gadgets, and yoga. Born in Syria, he currently resides in Long Beach, California. Learn more about Dahi here!