A group of US-trained Syrian rebels crossed though Turkey and into northern Syria this weekend. According to recent reports, they handed over all their weapons shortly after crossing the border.
“Seventy-five new fighters trained in a camp near the Turkish capital entered Aleppo province between Friday night and Saturday morning,” said Rami Abdel Rahman. Rahman serves as director for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a US-backed monitoring group and rebel faction.
The Pentagon has declined to answer questions, saying only, “We won’t get into details on where and when (US-trained rebels) enter the fight for operational security reasons.”
We know the report is not a rumor, however, because it was confirmed by Hassan Mustafa. Mustafa is a spokesman for Division 30, a US-backed unit to which some of those 75 rebels were deployed.
Mustafa would not elaborate about weapons or supplies, but told AFP that “their training in Turkey lasted two months and they went directly to the front lines with Daesh. They are now in the town of Tal Rifaat.”
According to Rahman, the rebels entered Syria with light weapons. They passed through the Bab al-Salama border point in a convoy of cars under air cover from a US-led coalition that had been carrying out air strikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
That same spot in the border has become a vital gateway for supplies and fighters, making it increasingly vulnerable to attacks by ISIS jihadists. Rahman said that a majority of the newly trained rebels were sent to Division 30. The others were deployed to help Suqur al-Jabal, a group whose name means “Falcons of the Mountain.”
Before this newest batch of fighters, the $500 million, US-led military training program in Turkey had managed to train only about 60 Syrian rebels to fight ISIS jihadists. The program was designed to train over 5,000 and has come under fire as an unnecessary expense.
The training base was attacked by Al-Nusra Front (Syrian version of al-Qaida) a few months ago and more than 12 Division 30 soldiers were killed or captured.
Since then, the US has utilized air power to help the beleaguered soldiers push back Nusra. US officials fear that Russia may attack US-backed rebels fighting the Assad regime, leading to a confrontation with forces fighting ISIS.
Reports published earlier this week claim that members of Division 30 “betrayed US and handed weapons over to al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria” shortly after re-entering the country.
“A strong slap 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,” said Abu Fahd al-Tunisi, a member of Nusra.
Division 30 commander Anas Ibrahim Obaid told Nusra that he tricked the coalition into giving him weapons. “He promised to issue a statement…repudiating Division 30, the coalition, and those who trained him,” tweeted another member of Nusra.