US-Backed Syrian Rebels Handed Over Equipment to Al Qaeda Affiliate, Military Admits

Health of the force

This post originally appeared on Common Dreams. Read more of Sarah Lazare’s articles here.

The U.S.-trained and armed rebels at the center of President Barack Obama’s Syria policy have turned over at least a quarter of their American-issued equipment to the the al Nusra Front, which is linked with al Qaeda, Central Command admitted late Friday.

“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,” said Col. Patrick Ryder, Central Command spokesperson, in a press statement.

The equipment was surrendered “in exchange for safe passage within their operating area,” according to Central Command.

The revelation contradicts U.S. military officials’ claims earlier this week that the U.S.-backed forces had not, in fact, given their equipment and arms to al-Nusra. Ryder said Central Command had received “new information,” emphasizing that “the report of NSF members providing equipment to Al Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train and equip program guidelines.”

Friday’s announcement follows last week’s admission by Central Command Commander Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III that, despite a $500 million train and arm program, the U.S. had no more than five Syrian combatants remaining active in the country. Despite this failure, Central Command announced earlier this week it had sent an additional 70 graduates of a U.S. anti-ISIS training program, and those forces have “successfully re-entered Syria complete with their weapons and equipment and are currently operating as New Syrian Forces.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Central Command has been scandalized by a series of reports alleging it has deceived the public by falsely claiming that U.S. air strikes against ISIS are more effective than they actually are. In response, the Pentagon launched an investigation last month.

Critics charge that Friday’s revelations underscore that the Obama administration’s policies of regime change and armed intervention in Syria have failed, and there is no U.S. military solution to the conflict. Yet hawkish voices in the U.S.—from retired general David Petraeus to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.)—continue to call for even more aggressive bombing and military action.

“Critics of the administration are saying that the U.S. program to arm and train these people is a failure and obviously they are right,” Robert Naiman, policy director for Just Foreign Policy, told Common Dreams. “But that doesn’t mean the answer is military escalation. The answer is that the whole project is flawed from the start.”