In the wake of an agreement between the United States and Turkey to work together with moderate rebels to root out ISIS along the Turkey-Syria border, an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra Front, has reportedly attacked the headquarters of Division 30, a US-backed rebel group, and captured their leader.
Nadim al-Hassan and several of his men were captured Tuesday in Northern Syria, in a rural area known as Azaz, United Press International reports. The US program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels has so far trained about 60 fighters, the majority of whom belong to Division 30.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, who reports on the war, said that the men were captured while returning from a meeting north of Aleppo. They were reportedly meeting to coordinate efforts with other factions. Division 30 is urging the Nusra Front to return their comrades.
According to the Economic Times, the Pentagon expected the number of trained fighters to be somewhere around 5,400 per year. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has said that plans have fallen behind, in part because new recruits have to be processed in order to determine whether or not they support Assad’s regime, however, many others simply dropout. The military announced that they currently have 7,000 potential volunteers.
Carter announced earlier this month that the number of fighters were an “awfully small number,” while noting that they wanted to make sure that new recruits didn’t “pose a green-on-blue threat to their trainers.”
I said the number 60, and I can look out at your faces and you have the same reaction I do, which is that that’s an awfully small number. We make sure that they, for example, aren’t going to pose a green-on-blue threat to their trainers; that they don’t have any history of atrocities.
Aside from the Pentagon’s goal of training fighters to defeat ISIS, there is also a CIA-led effort to use a large group of covertly-trained men to bring down the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Breitbart reports.
According to the same UK-based watchdog, the US-led coalition’s warplanes bombed a Nusra Front position in the area north of Aleppo, near the town of Azaz, Reuters reported earlier today.
The same Al-Qaeda affiliate, Nusra Front, led an attack on the Division 30 near Azaz at around 4:30 a.m. on Friday. 13 fighters were killed on both sides, says the Syrian Observatory. The Nusra Front is targeting rebels backed by the United States — a strategy which they have employed with violent success.
Two groups backed by Western states were defeated by Nusra fighters early this year as well as last, which has furthered their reputation as one of the most powerful insurgent group in northern Syria.
The Syrian Revolutionaries Front and Harakat Hazm were the two groups defeated. Jamal Maarouf, who led the Syrian Revolutionaries, was defeated last year by Nusra. Prior to their defeat, both were considered to be amongst the most powerful insurgent groups. Hazm was defeated earlier this year while during clashes with the Front which took place in the northwest. Both groups were reportedly affiliated with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Nusra Front hasn’t released an official statement on the fighting, The Washington Post reports. According to the leader of a moderate group fighting both ISIS and the Syrian government known as the Aleppo Swords Battalion, U.S. backed rebel groups, such as Division 30, are known to the Nusra Front as “agents of the Americans.”
The head of the Syrian Observatory, Rami Abdulrahman, issued a statement in which they indicated that “they are trying to liquidate any group that has links to the West.” This may have led to Division 30’s selection as a target.