US-Trained Syrian Rebels Allegedly Hand Weapons to Al Qaeda Affiliate

Jabhat al-Nusra, affiliated to al-Qaeda, took the technicals, guns and ammunition from the US-trained Division 30 in northern Aleppo Photo: Reuters

Jabhat al-Nusra, affiliated to al-Qaeda, took the technicals, guns and ammunition from the US-trained Division 30 in northern Aleppo Photo: Reuters

Washington Free Beacon, by Morgan Chalfant, Sep/ 22, 2015:

U.S.-trained rebels that reentered Syria over the weekend after completing the Pentagon program allegedly gave their weapons to the al Qaeda affiliate in the region, al Nusra.

The Telegraph reported that rebels fighting with Division 30, the rebel group with whom the U.S.-trained Syrian fighters are partnering to combat the Islamic State, surrendered and handed over weapons and ammunition to members of al Nusra, according to members of the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

Abu Fahd al-Tunisi, who identifies himself as a member of al Nusra, wrote on Twitter, “A strong slap [in the face] for America … the new group from Division 30 that entered yesterday hands over all of its weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra after being granted safe passage.”

“They also handed over a very large amount of ammunition and medium weaponry and a number of pick-ups,” al-Tunisi added.

Another alleged al Nusra member, Abu Khattab al-Maqdisi, claimed on Twitter that the commander of Division 30 Anas Ibrahim Obaid said he tricked the U.S.-led coalition in order to obtain weapons.

“He promised to issue a statement … repudiating Division 30, the coalition, and those who trained him,” al-Maqdisi wrote.

U.S. Central Command said Monday that approximately 70 U.S.-trained Syrian rebels had reentered Syria after undergoing training in Turkey.

If confirmed, the U.S.-trained rebels relinquishing their weapons would represent another setback for the $500 million Pentagon program. In July, al Nusra kidnapped a number of U.S.-trained Syrian rebels when they entered Syria after becoming the first class to complete the training program. The al Qaeda affiliate was allegedly tipped off by Turkey. Currently, only four or five rebels from the first class of the training program are still fighting the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL or ISIS) in the Middle East

The Pentagon plans to overhaul its effort to train rebels to fight the Islamic State.

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Explosive accusations against Turkey are exposing a major problem for Obama

REUTERS/Jason Reed

REUTERS/Jason Reed

Business Insider, by NATASHA BERTRAND AND MICHAEL B KELLEY, Aug. 25, 2015:

US-trained rebels allege that Turkish intelligence tipped off Al Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front and orchestrated the kidnapping of US-trained rebels entering Syria, Mitchell Prothero of McClatchy reports.

Though experts immediately advised skepticism of the accusations, the situation typifies the contradictory priorities in the faltering partnership between the US and Turkey against ISIS in Syria.

“All of this speaks to a bigger issue of how Turkey is perceived to have been nurturing the Islamist side of the Syrian insurgency at the expense of Syrian nationalists,” Aaron Stein, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Business Insider.

The US began training a small group of Syrian rebels known as the New Syria Force, or NSF, in early May, on the condition that they focus solely on combating ISIS while refraining from going after forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and his allies.

The program was intended to graduate as many as 2,000 moderate Syrian opposition forces, but only 54 have completed the program so far. In July, the Pentagon’s sent the first NSF graduates, known as Division 30, into Syria to fight ISIS.

The initiative failed spectacularly when the group was attacked by al-Nusra Front, the branch of Al Qaeda operating in Syria, immediately after it entered the country. The Division 30 Syria headquarters was subsequently bombed by Assad’s warplanes.

Map of Syria showing control by cities and areas held as of August 3 as well as a safe zone that the US and Turkey are trying to implement.

Map of Syria showing control by cities and areas held as of August 3 as well as a safe zone that the US and Turkey are trying to implement.

The US-backed rebels now claim that Turkish intelligence leaked information about the NSF’s arrival plans in Syria to al-Nusra. And a Turkish official told McClatchy that the leak would humiliate the Obama administration and push the US to go after both ISIS and Assad’s regime.

But some analysts quickly noted that a leak wasn’t necessary.

“The group itself had advertised its entry into Syria on social media, and it was well known that they were entering through Turkey,” Stein said.

Nevertheless, the accusations underscore Turkey’s alliances with rebel groups — specifically Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra — that the US opposes.

A member of al Qaeda's Nusra Front carries his weapon as he squats in the town of the northwestern city of Ariha, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province, May 29, 2015.

A member of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front carries his weapon as he squats in the town of the northwestern city of Ariha, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province, May 29, 2015.

“Our research has long pointed to a closer Turkish relationship to Ahrar al-Sham and Nusra than to IS. In that sense, this is not surprising,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider by email.

Stein has previously written about how Turkey “eventually reached out directly to al-Nusra, believing that the rebel group would be useful in achieving its ultimate goal: the overthrow of Assad.”

“Turkey also believed that it could potentially moderate the group and that al-Nusra would be good to work with as a ‘Syrian group’ fighting against the regime for the future of all Syrians,” he added.

The country has even closer ties to Ahrar, which is one of Syria’s largest rebel groups and the one with the most Turkish citizens. And although Ahrar is linked to Nusra, its stated political project is focused on toppling the Assad regime and establishing an Islamic state in Syria.

Read more 

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FDD VP for Research Jonathan Schanzer discusses Turkey and the growing threat from ISIS. – The John Batchelor Show (Syndicated) – August 20, 2015

IS U.S. Going to Be Backed into Airstrikes Against Assad?

Center for Security Policy, by Kyle Shideler, August 3, 2015:

The U.S. is now redefining it’s support relationship with “Division 30″, following its embarrassing launch last week.  Several of the U.S. trained Syrian rebels and their commanders were captured by Al Qaeda’s Al Nusra Front just days after the group’s entry into Syria. The U.S. has allocated $500 million for the training effort, which has so far produced approximately 60 fighters.

The attack by Nusra apparently took the U.S. completely by surprise, according to current and former officials interviewed by the New York Times:

While American military trainers had gone to great lengths to protect the initial group of trainees from attacks by Islamic State or Syrian Army forces, they 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. The Nusra Front said in a statement on Friday that its aim was to eliminate Division 30 before it could gain a deeper foothold in Syria.

That the attack was not anticipated is a particularly egregious failure, seeing as Al-Nusra has undertaken to co-opt or eliminate every militia in Syria which the U.S. supported. Yet somehow U.S. planners failed to foresee the obvious. Following the attack, the U.S has now announced that it will use airstrikes against any force attacking Division 30, including the Assad regime’s forces. This is a relaxation of a previous more restrictive policy, which was formed under concerns that the rebels would attempt to direct U.S. ordinance against Assad instead of the Islamic State.

The U.S.’s policy towards Islamic State in Syria fails to address the reality that Islamic State is simply not a priority for any other force operating in the Syria except the U.S., its Western allies, and perhaps the Kurdish PKK/YPG. Turkey’s entry into the conflict, celebrated by U.S. policy makers, is almost entirely directed towards damaging the Kurdish PKK and preventing an autonomous or independent Kurdistan in Syria. The Syrian rebel forces, the vast majority of whom are Islamist in orientation, if not, like al Nusra, overtly jihadist, and are focused on Assad, not Islamic State.

What does the U.S. intend to do if, as seems likely, Division 30 forces engage Assad’s forces, either alone, or in coordination with other rebels? Will the U.S. provide airstrikes if Assad’s forces launch a counter offensive? Will it provide air cover to defend Division 30 against Assad’s Air Force? As Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin noted in January, this was not an unforeseen problem.

DOES UNCLE SAM HAVE HIS BACK? PHOTOGRAPHER: KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

DOES UNCLE SAM HAVE HIS BACK? PHOTOGRAPHER: KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Then consider the deal for the use of Incirlik Airbase, which reportedly required the U.S. agreeing to Turkish effort to establish a “safe zone”,  along the border for Syrian rebels and refugees.

That agreement has been a long time desire of Turkey, Syrian rebels and pro-intervention U.S. lawmakers, and efforts to agitate for a no-fly zone have stepped up again in recent days.And while U.S. sources seek to emphasize the space is intended as an “anti-ISIS” safe zone, the real goal of the Turks and their rebel allies is, and has been since at least 2012,  a zone to shield forces from  Assad, and especially his air assets. In 2013, U.S. officials reportedly could not find a compelling national interest in establishing a no-fly zone over Northern Syria, and it 2014, National Security Advisor Susan Rice described a No Fly Zone or safe zone as “premature” or “a diversion”.

Yet it appears Turkey may now achieve this long-time objective. , thanks in part to the Islamic State.

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Former Defense Department spokesman, JD Gordon, joins former U.S. Congressman Michael Flanagan, to discuss President Obama’s approval of airstrikes in Syria that could lead to the U.S. taking sides in the Syrian civil war:

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The funny thing is the Kurds have the numbers, capability and the tenacity needed to defeat IS. So why is it we’re not doing more to support them and why are we still trying to convince ourselves that Turkey is a legitimate “ally?”