Syria Daily, July 31: Did the US Abandon Its 54 Trained Rebels?


PHOTO: Rebels fight regime forces in Handarat in Aleppo Province, October 2014 (Fadi Al-Halabi/AFP/Getty)



Analysis: Why Iran Will Not Compromise

UPDATE 0640 GMT: Reports are circulating that the US airforce bombed Jabhat al-Nusra positions in Azaz in northern Aleppo Province, near the suspected location of the abduction of 18 American-trained rebels, on Friday morning:

The Aleppo Media Center says 12 al-Nusra fighters were killed.

Claimed footage of smoke rising from the airstrike:

The US strike came as Jabhat al-Nusra attacked the headquarters of the 30th Division of the Free Syrian Army, which hosted the 54 rebels trained by the US. The Division says five members were killed.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Following Jabhat al-Nusra’s abduction of 18 of the 54 US-trained rebels in northern Syria, the mainstream media have taken notice of the months-long difficulties of the program.

The program was approved last autumn by the Obama Administration. Training was supposed to begin in March, with 3,000 fighters on the battlefield against the Islamic State by the end of 2015 and 5,000 in total.

However, the effort was soon plagued by bureaucratic and logistical problems and, most importantly, a division in objectives. Syria’s rebels, while fighting the Islamic State, have a priority of overthrowing the Assad regime.

See Syria Daily, July 30: A US War With Jabhat al-Nusra?

Colonel Nadim Hassan, the commander of the 54 rebels — and one of the 18 seized by Jabhat al-Nusra on Wednesday — explained the outcome in an interview two days earlier:

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….

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

Hassan questioned the American vetting process, “Some [fighters], expelled on suspicion of embracing ‘Islamic State doctrine’, are unavailable — they have since died in Syria, he said — battling the Islamic State.”

Reuters goes farther, getting to the core of the division between not only the US and the rebels but also Turkey, one of the main supporters of the opposition and the host of the training: “The vetting requirements…weed out fighters whose primary aim is to overthrow Assad.” For any propsect of training, the men had to “sign a declaration pledging to only use U.S.-supplied weaponry and military know-how to combat the Islamic State”.

The criticism of the US goes beyond the blocking of any more fighters than a group which — as one analyst put it on Wednesday — could fill a bus. The critics say the 54 rebels who were put into Aleppo Province were under-equipped and immediately put at risk, not only of defeat by the Islamic State but of attack by the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra — which fights alongside rebels on some fronts, but only amid growing tensions over its operations and links to Al Qa’eda.

In his Monday interview, Colonel Hassan said that the Pentagon had yet to provide night-vision goggles that he had requested and that some fighters were threatening to quit because he could not pay for their expenses.

Colonel Hassan said he had asked American trainers “if they are going to protect us”. The reply: “Our government still hasn’t announced anything that includes fighting the Assad regime.”

Hassan’s description pointed to the uncertainty in a statement by US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in May. He told a Congressional hearing, “If they are contested by regime forces, we would have some responsibility to help them. We have not decided yet in detail how we would exercise that responsibility but we have acknowledged we would have that responsibility.”

However, Carter continued, “We have not determined yet all the rules of engagement under those circumstances.”

The risk to the 54 US-trained fighters was compounded when they were put into areas of northern Aleppo Province where Jabhat al-Nusra as well as rebels operated.

Since last September and the first day of US aerial intervention in Syria, American airstrikes have targeted Jabhat al-Nusra as well as the Islamic State. Scores of fighters and civilians have died, with the latest attack reportedly killing four people early this week.

US officials have said that they are dealing with the threat of the “Khorasan Group”, whose members are supposedly planning attacks in the US and Europe. Local sources have questioned that rationale, saying that Washington is directly fighting Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been listed as a terrorist group since 2012 by the US because of its allegiance to Al Qa’eda.

Some rebel factions warned weeks ago that any US-trained fighters entering Syria were at risk because of the US attacks on Jabhat al-Nusra.

The Pentagon initially denied on Thursday that any rebels had been abducted. Later, a State Department spokesman said the US Government could not confirm reports: “Quite frankly, it’s Syria. We don’t have eyes on the ground.”

A local activist summarizes the situation for the US-trained rebels:

Sending in the 54 and then bombing JAN a few miles away from their positions — implying the 54 acted as spotters for the US Air Force — looks like constructing a case that “See, all our well-meant support is hopeless”.

Good folks say the US was totally aware that the solely anti-Islamic State soldiers would find their butts in a Jabhat al-Nusra jail shortly after crossing the border.

There’s only disagreement about the motivation of US actions: evil intention vs. plain stupidity.

Another reliable local source said, “The US knew, and received warnings from several factions, that Jabhat al-Nusra cannot and will not retaliate for USAF strikes, but will ‘take care of’ US proxies on the ground when necessary.”

Rebel Military Leader Calls for Safe Zones in CNN Interview

Colonel Abdul Jabbar Oqaidi of the Free Syrian Army backs Turkey’s proposals for safe zones in northern Syria, in an interview with CNN:

Oqaidi also discusses recent victories by the rebels in northwest Syria — “We are very close to Assad’s strongholds on the Mediterranean” — saying that the Assad regime now controls only 20% of the country.

World Food Program Announce Further Cut to Food Aid for Syrian Refugees in Jordan

The World Food Program announced further cuts on Friday in food aid for Syrian refugees in Jordan.

The WFP said that a last-minute US donation of $65 million had kept food aid going, but that funding in Jordan is not secured beyond August, even at a reduced level.

“This timely contribution has helped us avoid major cuts, but unless other donors step up to the plate, it will be only a matter of months before we face the same situation again,” said WFP’s regional director Muhannad Hadi.

Jordan hosts 629,000 of the more than 4 million Syrian refugees, with about 100,000 in camps and the rest in Jordanian communities. About 440,000 have been receiving WFP food voucher.

In August, food aid for the 200,000 most vulnerable will drop from $28 to $14 per person per month and for the rest from $14 to $7. Those living in the camps will continue to receive $28 per person per month.

Aid to refugees in Lebanon was halved in July to $13.50 per month.

The WFP has faced persistent difficulties with financing of aid. Last December, it briefly suspended assistance before restoring deliveries after an emergency fundraising campaign.

See Syria Daily, July 1: World Food Programme to Halve Food Vouchers to Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Syria Daily, Dec 10: UN to Resume Food Aid to Refugees After Social Media Campaign

The agency said it immediately needs $168 million to support refugees through October in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt.

Kurdish Militia YPG Demands Turkey Stop Overflights, Claims Warplanes Are Supporting Islamic State

The Kurdish YPG militia has demanded that Turkey halt its military flights over Syria, implied that Ankara is supporting ground operations of the Islamic State.

The YPG claimed that Turkish aircraft flew over the Kobane canton on Thursday morning, as the Islamic State launched a counter-attack against the town of Sarrin, taken by the YPG and the Free Syrian Army on Monday.

Rebels: We Repelled Regime Counter-Attack in Idlib Province

Rebels claim they have repelled a regime counter-attack in Idlib Province, causing heavy casualties.

On Tuesday, rebels captured the last major regime positions in the province, taking the town of Frikka and the Zayzoun Dam and thermal power plant.

See Syria Daily, June 29: Regime Collapses in Northwest — Did Assad Give Up?

Pro-Assad accounts claimed this morning that Syrian forces had retaken the Zayzoun plant.

However, a spokesman for the Jaish al-Fateh rebel coalition said that more than 40 regime troops were killed and more than 120 wounded, and that two tanks had been captured.

The Idlib News Network also reported more than 40 deaths, with 20 of them in an elite unit commanded by Colonel Suhail “The Tiger” Hassan.

Jabhat al-Nusra claims 50 regime troops and Hezbollah fighters have been slain.

Rebels facing the regime attack:

Fire Destroys Bakery Serving 170,000 Refugees

Fire has destroyed a bakery in Reyhanli, Turkey, serving 170,000 Syrian refugees.

The Turkish relief agency IHH said the cause is unknown.

More Conflicting Claims as Hezbollah-Regime Offensive on Zabadani Enters 2nd Month

More conflicting claims are circulating on Friday as the Hezbollah-regime offensive against Zabadani, about 31 km (19 miles) northwest of Damascus, enters its second month.

State media claim the Syrian military captured the Barada Mosque and buildings in the southern edge of the town, killing “terrorists” and destroying a weapon depot.

However, pro-opposition activists say rebels are continuing not only to repel the offensive but also to carry out deadly counter-attacks. They say at least a dozen troops and militia, including Hezbollah fighters, were killed in operations that included an ambush on enemy vehicles.

The Hezbollah-regime offensive started at the beginning of July, and pro-Assad outlets claimed within days that Zabadani — the first town to be taken from the regime by the Free Syrian Army, in January 2012 — would fall. However, rebel resistance has continued, with disputed claims over the casualties suffered by the Assad forces and Hezbollah fighters.

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  1. I was strongly opposed to Nusra’s attacks on the SRF and Harakat Hazm, and generally have a low opinion of Nusra. I must say, however, this case is different; I see very few rebels, no matter how much they dislike Nusra, rushing to defend those who signed away the main fight; and especially if it is true that they allowed themselves to be used as spotters for the US bombing of Nusra. What would one expect Nusra to do?

    • Unless Nusra started it, and the bombing was in response to the attack on the 30th division.

      And I don’t see what the big deal is with a group of rebels fighting exclusively ISIS? They can man the front in north Aleppo, rebels previously manning that front which don’t have restrictions can go south to Aleppo city. It’s not like ISIS won’t still be around long after Assad falls. The narrow-mindedness of the internet never ceases to amaze me.

      Only real problem with the current American approach is that they are forcing a settlement onto current conditions, rather than working on establishing conditions for a settlement. Granted an almost impossible task, but it beats a futile effort any day.

      • Ivan: “Only real problem with the current American approach is that they are forcing a settlement onto current conditions, rather than working on establishing conditions for a settlement. ” – I think that’s the crux of the issue, the Americans don’t have (ie beholden to their commands on who to attack or not attack) an effective armed faction in the north, like they do in the southern half of Syria, which is dominated by JNF and Ahrar-Sham neither of whom are particularly friendly towards the US. Furthermore I think the US wants to control the pace (ie to gain leverage over Assad during the settlement) of rebel advance from the north and that’s why I think since the Iran deal we hear Obama wanting to stop the flow of weapons (ie obstruct Saudi finance and Turkish connivance – good luck with closing Pandora box now that it’s open) and ammo into Syria. I must say Obama’s handling of this conflict has been so clumsy and inconsistent that’s his approach has virtually made almost all of the actors involved in Syrian civil war, excluding the Iranians, incredibly suspicious of American intentions and I would not be surprised if all them spoil the final settlement by the creation of facts on the crowd before this conflict is resolved.

      • “I don’t see what the big deal is with a group of rebels fighting exclusively ISIS?”

        In theory there’s no problem. In this case, these rebels will be used against JAN as well, imperilling the fight against Assad without any offsetting contribution. If the goal was truly ISIS alone, they should have been sent to fight along with the YPG.

        The problem with the American approach is its general detachment from reality. Simply put, in the near term there is no diplomatic solution to the conflicts in Syria, but only a military one.

  2. My predictions from a month ago has come true, isis is slowly collapsing , assad forces are hanging around palmyra hoping the kurds& fsa putting pressure on raqqa will force isis to withdraw troops from palmyra, so assad can capture it with minimal casualties and call it a great victory.

    Three outside powers are looking for a fight with groups inside syria.
    The turks attacked Ypg and are hoping for a response so they can start a full war.
    Israel attacked hezbollah and waiting for a response.
    The americans sent their 54 trained rebels in as a bait and then bombed Jan , the most effective force against assad, looking for response, so they can bomb Jan same way as isis . One thing some people don’t understand is that the americans do not want a military victory for the rebels and don’t care how many civilians die in syria, they are hoping increased pressure on assad will force it into a negotiated settlement. There was an airstrike on safira, must have been a chemical storage and was about to be moved or used.

    Assad retreat from south idlib was calculated, to prevent encirclement and to increase pressure on Iran to send a large military force and constantly reminding iran that if syria falls, the rebels will go after hezbollah into lebanon next.

    If a deal is reached between outside powers, I expect assad to be assassinated soon after.

    The syrian observatory for human right is a joke, not only the guy speaks with a poor & confusing English, the numbers of casualties he put out are just made up and don’t match what is happening on the ground, yet nearly all sources treat it as gold standard ! .

    • Astute observations: that said I do recommend you read the comments in yesterday’s Syria Daily (e.g. would or would not Latakia city fall because of the collapse in Ghab plain, is there or is there not a defacto Turkish no fly zone between manbij and Azaz, will the Jordanians intervene in the south to prevent the northern rebels capturing Damascus first etc). I personally think this conflict is evolving to fast for the US and that both the Turks and Israelis are more involved militarily then is acknowledged publicly. For things to get really crazy is if Netanyahu does something nutty like bomb Hezbollah in Zabadan (sp?) then all bets are off.

        • Bill Smith: Apparently, it’s unconfirmed so far, parts of Qalamoun (sp?) was bombed by them according to pro-regime sources.

          • I don’t think I would trust regime sources on this. It would make very good propaganda for them to claim the Israelis are fighting against them.

            • 1. The US bombed JAN on the very first day of the air campaign. They’ve bombed them on a semi-regular basis ever since, why would they suddenly now feel the need to invent an excuse for doing so?

              2. Israel has repeatedly bombed Hezbollah officers and weapons being transferred to Hezbollah. While I agree that pro-regime media is innately lacking in credibility, this would not be unprecedented and, again, would just be more of the same.

  3. “…some fighters were threatening to quit because he could not pay for their expenses”.

    O, IC. So it is about money that they want from Amrica.

    I would be surprised, if this whole “Colonel Nadim Hassan unit”, is not his family and extended family, craving easy, effortless money from the has-no-idea, uncle Sam.

    Clueless naive Amrica.

    • I wouldn’t be so dismissive. The remaining trained guys have already closed with JN and killed some 20 of them.

    • There will always be extremists and fanatics. The question is whether they have general support.

      My impression is that in Gaza they do, and in Israel they don’t. Israelis may support the peaceful setting up of settlements, but I don’t think many support the murder of Muslims. I may be wrong.
      It is inevitable that the more extremist Israelis will gravitate toward the settlements.

        • “but I don’t think many support the murder of Muslims. I may be wrong.”

          The just re-elected a government that includes ministers who advocate mass deportation of Israeli Arabs.

          There was overwhelming public support for the last invasion of Gaza.

          • Yes, but neither of these involve the murder of muslim civilians in the West Bank. Gaza is an enemy state which was constantly firing rockets into Israel, and that invasion was part of the war. The West Bank is not an independent enemy state at war with Israel, and there is no justification for this recent attack.

            I know the distinction is a bit fuzzy, but I think it is real.

          • Ian, the public support to invade Gaza was in response to rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel.

            Are you saying that Gazans have the right to fire rockets into Israel? That is quite racist.

          • The just re-elected a government that includes ministers who advocate mass deportation of Israeli Arabs.

            When Arabs generally have an extreme racist view about Jews (as documented in the Qur’an, and by charlatan Mohammad massacres), don’t you think there will be a few people who will advocate separating Arabs from Jews?

  4. Breaking news: rebels have captured Qarqur in northern Ghab plains – Markito

    That’s the situation know for the SAA: they might have re-captured Mansoura but in doing so they lost Qarqur: as Barborrosa once said ‘he who defends everything defends nothing’.

    • Qarqur for Mansoura? I’ll take that tradeoff anytime.

      I’ve had many successful predictions lately but hold the medals, please! Anyone, even Obama the anti-astute, could do so if they opened their eyes. A day or so ago I cautioned regime supporters not to get excited by any very temporary “victories” in Al Ghab thanks to a fatal combination: too limited manpower (or the wrong kind) versus too many holes that need plugging elsewhere.

      When rebels move to strike elsewhere, the regime may grab an occasional position. Have no fear! Its garrison problem is unsolvable. Leave a one garrison and rebels will soon take the place, along with the garrison. Leave a strong garrison and rebels will rampage elsewhere.

    • Qarqur seems to still be in regime hands. However, I don’t think the regime think they can hold in Qarqur. The real objective is to delay the rebels to ensure they can hold at Joureen later on.

      • James: Can you cite source please? ‘to ensure they hold at Joureen later on’. – Wow, I didn’t know the SAA situation was that bad.

        • I’m stating my opinion on where I think the regime will make a stand next. Regime currently hold Qarqur (I think) and also most of the west side of the Ghab plain. The map I’m looking seems favorable to the regime position. I don’t see how the regime can hold Qarqur much longer. Joureen is where I think the regime will build strong defensive lines. Joureen protects Prophet Younis mountain where they broadcast from and have an important military position at.

          Source: Recent map of Ghab plain.
          Karybdis ‏@Karybdamoid · Jul 30
          The #Ghab Plains #Idlib Corridor map. Idlib corridor collapses from JaF offensive, SAA fights back, takes Mansoura

        • Joureen is part of Alawistan, while Qarqur or Mansurah are not part of Alawistan.

          The regime will put up stiff resistance at Joureen.

  5. The US “moderate” training program at the “modest” price of $10000 a piece for 50 fighters, produced a “moderate” fighter that lasted 60 minutes inside “moderate” Syria. That is roughly $165/min. Well, that is “modest.”

  6. Breaking News!!!


    Don’t we all wish?

    Lucas’ piece entitled, “Syria Analysis: Why Iran Will Not Compromise” shows terrific common sense. Speaking of comon sense, note the two policy options available to Obama As usual, he chose the worst.

    I can understand obvious pro-regime trolls here would that choice, but why would anyone else here do so unless for die hard partisan reasons?

    National security should trump partisan concerns. Can’t these people see that Obama’s post-negotiation policy, like so many previous ones it invites disaster. Recall his crazy 2012 decision refusing to arm 100,000 then moderate rebels, his infamous red line back down, his ISIS JV team assessment, his one-dimensional anti-ISIS campaign, his poorly thought out training program. Rhodes must have enjoyed them all.

  7. Citing Rube Goldberg Solutions to Problems, Obama’s defenders Assure Us Obama Is Actually “Tough on Iran”

    We are supposed to believe that prolonging the war. which Obama’s stalemate strategy set out to do, is actually a clever scheme by Obama to snare Iran into an Vietnam-style quagmire. Arming the rebels early on could have thwarted Iran far more easily.

    Their claim is pure nonsense unless you love Rube Goldberg contraptions. As a strategy for accomplishing that it has the side benefits of leveling a country, radicalizing Sunnis worldwide and trapping millions of innocent people in that quagmire.

    To understand my allusion, you need to know that Rube Goldberg was a silent era comedian famous for coming up complicated solutions for simple problems. Look him up online.

  8. “The Kurdish YPG militia has demanded that Turkey halt its military flights over Syria, implied that Ankara is supporting ground operations of the Islamic State.” – Here’s the thing with ‘demands’ if you don’t have the means to enforce those ‘demands’ then your words are just that words. The YPG got very cocky after Sarrin not realising that much of their advantages against Daeesh came from the US airforce, lose that and they no different from the other militias in Syria. If they had any sense they should concentrate their efforts on consolidating what they already have instead of trying to be adventurous (the cause of Turkish paranoia and subsequent bombing of PKK) in northern Syria. In fact if I were them I wouldn’t concentrate on seizing more territory I would concentrate on removing my rivals in the Kurdish nationalists movement in places like Iraq then once the Americans grow wary of Iraqi or Syrian rebel incompetence offer my services to them for a price (ie more territory).

  9. Interesting article on Syria comment: The creation of an Alawite Hezbollah

    Now to our erstwhile regular poster Kazemi who often asks why secular Sunni Arabs in Latakia or Banyas would even consider favouring Islamist rebels over Assad, well you now have your answer.

    • Damn there should be an editing option: Alawite Hezbollah is misleading as this new group does include some sunnis but the creation of this group is an interesting development in that it indicates the regime handing over ideological indoctrination to Lebanese Hezbollah and in doing so have turn their back on Baathism.

      • The commenting system here at EA is most primitive. Ironic that EA advocates the modernization of the Levant and Iran, but hesitates to modernize itself.

    • Fact is that there is no barrier to converting from Sunnism to Shiism, and historically that has been going on for centuries. Intermarriage was common before the war. Alawism may go through a renaissance due to the war. However, the Alawis actually pride themselves in being secular and “western oriented” and consider Islamics to be backward (just like in most Islamic countries). Syrian Hezbollah is probably manned by Syrian Shiites and not the Alawis.

      There is no strong reason for urbanized Sunnis to favor Islamic government over an Alawite regime, unless the Alawites take to ethnically cleanse their territory.

  10. ALEPPO

    –After kidnapping U.S. trained #FSA soldiers, Al #Nusra is now fighting against #FSA Division 30 and #Afrin #YPG in #aleppo

    –A nice B-9 cannon blows away a regime barrier in Ramousa.

    No shocker: FSB Helps Islamists from Russia Go to Syria, Only Worried When They Come Back, ‘Novaya Gazeta’ Says

    “The Russian special services have controlled” the flow of Islamist radicals from Russia to Syria “from the very beginning,” according to Elena Milashina of “Novaya gazeta.” They haven’t interfered and sometimes have assisted it, seeing “a threat to state security only in those who try to return from this war.”

    In return we need to help Islamists go to Russia, the Caucasus and the Central Asian republics


    The Syrian Human Rights Committee issued a report that the start of the Turkish military operation on July 24 has led to the “near total cessation of barrel bombing.”

    Obama, Ben Rhodes and Denis “Rose Garden” McDonough could have ramped down the bombing ages ago if they were not so busy savoring the taste of Khamenei’s butt. All three and John Kerry are war criminals for there efforts to keep Assad afloat and promote its empire, thereby assisting in genocide.


    “This is the administration that once said it would be the most transparent administration in history. They’re not acting like it.”

    • Or perhaps, the Nusra front accomplished the cessation of barrel bombing with the destruction of the Safira munitions depot.

      • The Safira munitions depot was not destroyed by JaN, even though they took credit for it. Most probably Turkish air raids, or possibly ISIS. Video of the scene shows maybe a kilometer of buildings on fire. A suicide bomber cannot do that.

  11. Rebels claim they have repelled a regime counter-attack in Idlib Province, causing heavy casualties.

    is a quote from JaN, but yeah rebels in your world, the moderate ones

  12. #1: US-led raids ‘destroy IS bridges’ on Syria-Iraq border


    Rebels destroyed 3 tanks & 1 BMP, killed btw ~40 Assad-forces during attempt to regain #Zeyzoun & Thermal Power Plant–Markioto0171.

    #3: Rebels intensify shelling on regime army bases in Aleppo

    #4. The toll of extremism: 50 Britons killed fighting for Syria and Iraq militants

    “It is clear that individuals travel to Syria in clusters and usually fight together once there,” Maher said. “This is also apparent when studying the pattern of deaths. Where one individual from a particular cluster dies, you typically see some of their comrades dying around the same time.

    • It’s not a new development as they have been shelling Qardaha for at least the last week or two in response for Zabadani. However, it seems somewhat significant. The rebels control significant area in Jabal Akrad and other areas west of the Ghab plain. It puts a bit of a hamper on the idea that they are no threat to Latakia. The coastal areas may be primarily Alawite but Al-Haffah area and the Jabal Akrad area are predominately Sunni. It seems likely another Latakia offensive will happen in the future.

      • There have been multiple reports of serious discontent among other leading Alawite families with the Assads’ conduct of the war (if only because they’re losing.)

        I think a general collapse in the regime with NDF and possibly Hezbollah disregarding any move to hand over Damascus o the Opposition and with some Alawite communities in the Latakia countryside refusing to send troops to the SAA and setting up their own local defense forces.

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