U.S. program to train “moderate” Syrian rebels faces severe setbacks

The Syria Train and Equip program, otherwise known as the New Syrian Force and it’s small number of members as “Division 30”, have endured a week of humiliating defeats at the hands of the Al Nusrah Front, the Al Qaeda affiliate fighting almost all other parties in the multifaceted Syrian civil war. First the two top Syrian leaders of Division 30, and five other members, were captured by Nusrah and their fates remain unknown.

The biggest kidnapping prize on Thursday was a leader of the trainees, Nadeem Hassan. When the Pentagon announced the program last year, Mr. Hassan helped to gather several groups totaling 1,200 insurgents, who were already fighting in Syria and willing to join the training. They began fighting together as a unit called Division 30. Also abducted were at least six other fighters from Division 30, but an American official said they were not among the graduates.

After screening, just 125 of his recruits were invited to the first course. Of those, more than half were thrown out or quit.

The rest, he said, had deployed back to Syria, but had not been told whether American warplanes would defend them if Syrian forces attacked.

Mr. Hassan said the Americans, worried about the lack of recruits, were recalling men they had once rejected. Some, expelled on suspicion of embracing “Islamic State doctrine,” are unavailable: They have since died in Syria, he said — battling the Islamic State.

Nusrah acknowledged the kidnappings via social media early Friday morning. Meanwhile, Nusrah launched an attack on the Division 30 headquarters near Azaz in Northern Syria, killing an additional 5 members of the small cadre, bringing the total number down to as few as 42 of the original 54 in just two days. Nusrah has threatened the remaining Division 30 members via social media that they should abandon collaboration with the U.S. or face certain annihilation.

Once again the Obama Administration’s plan to degrade and destroy ISIS, as well as bring stability to Iraq and Syria, appears to be coming apart at the seams. It is understandable if at this point President Obama is just trying to run out the clock on this otherwise failed enterprise and looking forward to that day in January 2017 he can be rid of it once and for all.

[Long War Journal][NYT][VOA News]