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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Monitor: US-trained Rebels in Syria Attacked

by VOA News July 31, 2015

The al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front attacked the headquarters of a new U.S.-formed rebel group in northern Syria early Friday, rebel groups and an organization monitoring the war said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based pro-opposition group that relies on sources inside Syria, said the clashes left at least 13 people on both sides dead.

The Observatory also said Friday that warplanes believed to belong to the U.S.-led coalition had bombed Nusra Front positions near Azaz, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Aleppo city.

​​The Nusra Front, one of the most powerful insurgent groups in northern Syria, targeted rebel groups in the Azaz area, the Observatory said, escalating tensions between rival insurgents near the Turkish border.

Opposition sources said one of the rebel groups targeted in Nusra Front's overnight attack, 'Division 30,' has been trained and equipped under a U.S.-led program to build a force to fight the Islamic State group in Syria.

A representative for Division 30, who requested anonymity for safety reasons, said Nusra Front fighters attacked the group's headquarters near Azaz at about 4.30 a.m. Friday, killing five members of the group.

The representative declined to say whether his group was among those trained by the U.S., saying only: 'The Division supports any side that helps Syria and the Syrians against Daesh,' referring to the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

US-backed

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told the French news agency AFP that Nusra Front launched the attack to seize weapons 'given by Washington to the rebels' but that the group had not been able to enter Division 30's base as clashes continued during the day.

Abu al-Hassan Marea, a Syrian activist who lives in Turkey near the Syrian border, said the Division 30 group had received training in Turkey, but did not know whether it was by the Americans.

The Nusra Front has a track record of crushing rebel groups that have received support from Western states, including the Hazzm movement that collapsed earlier this year.

The clashes come a week after Washington and Ankara announced an agreement to provide air cover for Syrian rebels and jointly sweep Islamic State fighters from a strip of land along the Turkey-Syria border, with U.S. warplanes using bases in Turkey for airstrikes.

In initial airstrikes, Turkey struck several Islamic State targets in Syria last week. However, the military has focused most of its recent airstrikes on Kurdish fighters affiliated with the PKK in northern Iraq.

​​Kidnapping claim

Meanwhile, Division 30 accused Nusra Front fighters of abducting its leader and several other members earlier this week. The group's representative said reports that its fighers were Western-backed were likely the reason behind the kidnappings.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he had seen reports about the abductions, but could not confirm whether the captured rebels had been trained by the U.S.

U.S. Department of Defense spokeswoman Commander Elissa Smith denied the kidnapping, telling AFP that no members of the 'New Syrian Force' had been captured or detained.

The New Syrian Force is a term used by Washington to describe Syrian rebels who have been screened to exclude extremist elements and passed a training course led by U.S. troops.

Partners in Syria

The Obama administration has long struggled to find partners on the ground in Syria to work with in its war against the Islamic State group.

A program for training moderate Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State group has been faltering.

Pentagon officials said earlier this month the vetting has been so strict that of an estimated 6,000 Syrian volunteers, only 1,500 have been declared qualified so far and that of those, fewer than 100 have been retained in the training taking place at bases in Jordan and Turkey. Fewer than 60 have recently entered Syria.

More than 230,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests that descended into a civil war after a regime crackdown.

Some material for this report came from Reuters, AFP and AP.



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