US-backed rebels hand over equipment to al-Nusra Front
Anti-Assad rebels being trained and supplied by America have handed over some of their equipment to Islamists affiliated to al-Qaeda, according to the US military.
Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for US Central Command, said in a statement that the New Syrian Forces has surrendered six pick-up trucks and a quantity of ammunition, the equivalent of about one-quarter of their issued equipment, to a suspected al-Nusra intermediary last week in exchange for safe passage through territory controlled by the jihadi group.
He said: “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.”
The report of NSF members providing equipment to al-Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train-and-equip program guideline.Colonel Patrick Ryder
The news is the latest snag to hit US efforts to train local forces to fight the Islamic State group in Syria.
A top US general told Congress last week that only a handful of the rebels trained through the programme are still fighting in Syria, though US military officials said this week that dozens more have since joined them.
Officials have been quoted as saying that a review of the scheme is underway that could lead to it being scaled back.
The al-Nusra Front, whose members pledge allegiance to al-Qaeda, is one of the most powerful groups in the Syrian conflict.
The Sunni jihadi group is fighting both forces loyal to president Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State group.
al-Nusra and IS and fighting for control of parts of the northern city of Aleppo.
Last week a force of around 1,500 Chechen, Uzbek and Tajik fighters pledged allegiance to Nusra Front, in a boost for the group’s fortunes.