CENTCOM: Syrian Rebel Unit Gave Quarter of Its U.S.-Coalition Equipment to al-Nusra
U.S. Central Command acknowledged today that a Syrian rebel unit that received U.S. equipment gave a quarter of it to the al-Qaeda-aligned al-Nusra Front "purportedly" in exchange for safe passage through a Nusra-controlled area.
CENTCOM said it received the report at about 1 p.m. that a commander of a New Syrian Forces unit had gifted the U.S. ammo and vehicles.
That follows a tweet from Nusra earlier this week: a photo of a rifle provided by the coalition, now in their hands. “A big slap in America’s face," the tweet said. "The new batch of Division 30 that entered Syria yesterday handed over all its equipment including ammunition, medium weapons and pick-up trucks to Jabhat al-Nusra in exchange for its safety.”
CENTCOM declared the claim to be false. They came to that verdict after the New Syrian Forces told the coalition that they weren't missing any equipment and the photo had been ripped from an NSF fighter's Facebook page. NSF said on their Facebook page that if the rebel major in question did turn over weapons to Nusra, "he will be handed over to the military court and charged with grand treason because these weapons are not his to give, they are owned by the Syrian people."
"Today the NSF 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 CENTCOM spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder. "If accurate, the report of NSF members providing equipment to Al Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train and equip program guidelines."
Ryder added that "in light of this new information, we wanted to ensure the public was informed as quickly as possible about the facts as we know them at this time."
"We are using all means at our disposal to look into what exactly happened and determine the appropriate response," he said.
This comes two days after CENTCOM said it had "no indication that any New Syrian Forces fighters have defected to Al Nusra Front, contrary to several press and social media reports."
"Additionally, all Coalition-issued weapons and equipment are under the positive control of NSF fighters. Approximately 70 graduates of the Coalition's Syria Train and Equip Program successfully returned to Syria over the weekend and are currently operating there as New Syrian Forces," that statement continued.
"While the NSF do not operate under the command and control of the Coalition, we will continue to support and enable these anti-ISIL forces as part of the campaign to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL."