U.S.-Armed 'Vetted Moderate' Syrian Rebel Groups Surrender, Defect to Al-Qaeda
Reports the past two days indicate that two "vetted moderate" Syrian rebel groups, Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF), have surrendered, with some even defecting, to Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda's official affiliate in Syria.
Ruth Sherlock reports today at The Telegraph:
Two of the main rebel groups receiving weapons from the United States to fight both the regime and jihadist groups in Syria have surrendered to al-Qaeda.
The US and its allies were relying on Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionary Front to become part of a ground force that would attack the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
For the last six months the Hazm movement, and the SRF through them, had been receiving heavy weapons from the US-led coalition, including GRAD rockets and TOW anti-tank missiles.
But on Saturday night Harakat Hazm surrendered military bases and weapons supplies to Jabhat al-Nusra, when the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria stormed villages they controlled in northern Idlib province.
The development came a day after Jabhat al-Nusra dealt a final blow to the SRF, storming and capturing Deir Sinbal, home town of the group's leader Jamal Marouf.
The attack caused the group, which had already lost its territory in Hama to al-Qaeda, to surrender.
A couple important points to note based on other reporting.
First is that al-Nusra was reportedly aided in the attack on the SRF by ISIS. According to a McClatchy report:
Even more ominous was that that the Islamic State, now far stronger and claiming to run a Caliphate in Syria and Iraq, reportedly had joined Jabhat al Nusra in the attack on the village of Deir Sinbul...
If Islamic State fighters in fact joined Nusra in the attack, it will have major repercussions for the war in Syria, for the two groups have been divided since April 2013, when Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the Iraq-based leader, announced the creation of the Islamic State. Nusra had supported the rebel war against Assad until very recently and also was at war with the Islamic State.
The second point is that reports indicate that one contributing factor to SRF's collapse was the defection of some of their "vetted moderate" fighters:
In the past few days, the Nusra Front captured several villages in the Jabal al-Zawiya region of Idlib province and on Saturday it entered the village of Deir Sonbol, the stronghold of the Revolutionaries' Front, forcing Maarouf to pull out.
"Dozens of his fighters defected and joined Nusra, that is why the group won," Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters.
A Nusra fighter confirmed the report, saying: "They left him because they knew he was wrong and delusional."
"He left his fighters in the battle and pulled out. Last night, we heard them on the radio shouting 'Abu Khaled (Maarouf) escaped, Abu Khaled escaped'," he added.
One Arabic language report indicates that 600 Hazm fighters defected, with 400 in Qalamoun and 200 up north (HT: Aymenn al-Tamimi). Whoever is doing the vetting of the "vetted moderates" for the State Department is clearly not doing a good job.
But perhaps more important is that both SRF and Hazm were armed and trained by the U.S., with those weapons now falling into the hands of Al-Qaeda.
As the Telegraph report cited above indicates, SRF had been armed with GRAD rockets and TOW missiles. Another report indicates that SRF tanks and other arms were captured following SRF's retreat.
I reported here at PJ Media that Hazm had publicly condemned U.S. airstrikes on ISIS and al-Nusra as "an attack on the revolution."
Both groups also received the hearty support of the Washington, D.C., foreign policy establishment, with Harakat al-Hazm being praised as "rebels worth supporting" and “a model candidate for greater U.S. and allied support, including lethal military assistance,” and SRF being hailed as "the West’s best fighting chance against Syria’s Islamist armies."
Those chances are looking pretty bleak at the moment.