#BringBackOurRebels: Despite Pentagon Denial, Reports Confirm That U.S.-Trained Syrian Rebels Were Kidnapped By Al-Qaeda Almost Immediately

(Be sure to see the update below for new details and Associated Press confirmation.)

Earlier this week, I reported at PJ Media that the first class of Obama's U.S.-trained, "vetted moderate" Syrian rebels -- 50 in all -- had left Turkey for Syria and had not been heard from since, based on a McClatchy report.

Yesterday, I posted a follow-up report claiming that 18 of the newly trained U.S. rebels, including some of the leaders, had been arrested/kidnapped by Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's official affiliate in Syria. Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa Smith denied the claim:

Reports have claimed that the al-Qaida linked Al-Nusra Front has detained 18 opposition members, including Syrian Turkmen Colonel Nedim Hassan, -who is the leader of the U.S train-and-equip program-, and field commander Farhan Jasim near the Syrian city of Aleppo on Wednesday, which was refuted by the Pentagon. "While we will not disclose the names of specific groups involved with the Syria Train and Equip program I can confirm that there have been no New Syrian Force personnel captured or detained." Pentagon spokeswoman or Cmdr. Elissa Smith told Daily Sabah. It was claimed that the opposition members who were returning from the train-and-equip program from Turkey were cut in by the Nusra militants, and were allegedly detained on the grounds that they are cooperating with the U.S.

The flat-out denial by the Pentagon is being refuted this morning, both by a Reuters report and a statement issued by the group itself.

From the Reuters report:

The al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front has abducted the leader of a U.S.-backed rebel group in north Syria, opposition sources and a monitoring group said, in a blow to Washington's efforts to train and equip fighters to combat Islamic State. A statement issued in the name of the group, "Division 30", accused the Nusra Front of abducting Nadim al-Hassan and a number of his companions in a rural area north of Aleppo. It urged Nusra to release them. A Syrian activist and a second opposition source said most of the 54 fighters who have so far completed a U.S.-led train and equip programmed in neighboring Turkey were from Division 30. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that reports on the war, said the men were abducted while returning from a meeting in Azaz, north of Aleppo, to coordinate efforts with other factions. The opposition source said they were abducted on Tuesday night.

The Telegraph is also reporting:

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 Division] demands that the brothers in the Nusra Front release the colonel... and his companions with the utmost speed so as to preserve the blood of the Muslims and... so as not to weaken the frontlines with side disputes between the brothers of one side," said the statement, which was released on Division 30's official page on social media.

This development embarrasses both the Obama administration and the GOP leadership that pushed for the $500 million in funding for the program on multiple levels:

  • The program was supposed to train 5,000 rebels to fight the Islamic State this year, but Defense Secretary Ashton Carter admitted to Congress earlier this month that only 60 had completed the program.

  • To train those 60 fighters, the Pentagon has burned one half of the funds allocated for the training, with $4 million spent per fighter so far.

  • No sooner had that first class of 54 been sent off to Syria on July 12 than the Pentagon reportedly lost contact with them.

  • Then yesterday the initial reports were that 18 of those members had been arrested by Jabhat al-Nusra, prompting the Pentagon denial.

  • Now, the Division 30 statement and the Reuters report flatly contradict the Pentagon denial yesterday, meaning they did not know or they lied about the embarrassing report.

As I stated yesterday, it's become clear which side actually fits the description of "JV team."

UPDATE: The Associated Press confirms the report that the Pentagon denied yesterday:

Syrian activists say a leader and six members of a U.S.-backed rebel group have been abducted in northern Syria, most likely by the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a Turkey-based Syrian activist said Thursday that Col. Nadim al-Hassan, who heads a brigade known as "Division 30," was picked up near the border town of Azaz along with the other six.

Dubai-based reporter Jenan Moussa has additional details: