Al-Qaeda Robs US-Armed Syrian Rebels (Again), Takes TOWs, Ammo, Tank

In September, a funny thing happened.

Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of the U.S. Central Command and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth ended up in front of Congress to discuss how the now infamous “train and equip” program for Syrian rebels was going. Specifically, they were asked how many of the fighters that had participated in the program were still operating on the ground.

Austin’s answer: “four or five.”

That was just slightly lower than the 5,400 that The Pentagon had hoped to field by the end of 2015, but hey, at least both figures have a four and a five in them.

Let’s not kid ourselves, that’s a joke. This is just a total failure,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said.

Well, a few days after Austin and Wormuth’s embarrassing testimony, whatever remained of the US-trained rebels reportedly got robbed (or we suppose “extorted” is the better term) by al-Nusra when, according to a statement by Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, the fighters surrendered a quarter of their issued equipment including six pickup trucks and some ammunition to the al-Qaeda affiliate in exchange for “safe passage" from Turkey into Syria. 

After that revelation, the train and equip program was mothballed.

Before that, in July, al-Nusra kidnapped the commander of US-trained Division 30, and several of his compatriots. "We warn soldiers of (Division 30) against proceeding in the American project," Nusra said in a statement distributed online. "We, and the Sunni people in Syria, will not allow their sacrifices to be offered on a golden platter to the American side."

Well on Sunday, US-backed rebels suffered another humiliating setback when al-Nusra effectively took over Maarat Numan where Division 13 - one of the first “vetted” groups to be given access to American-made TOWs - maintains a presence.

Al-Qaida militants swept through a rebel-held town in northern Syria in a display of dominance Sunday, arresting U.S.-backed fighters and looting weapons stores belonging to the Free Syrian Army,” AP reports. “The FSA's 13th Division said on Twitter Sunday that Nusra fighters were going door to door in the town of Maarat Numan and arresting its cadres after Nusra, alongside fighters from the Jund al-Aqsa faction, seized Division 13 posts the night before.”

Lost in the fighting, according to sources: “anti-tank missiles, armored vehicles, a tank, and other arms.”

Apparently, al-Nusra has sought to suppress demonstrations in Idlib province since the ceasefire (which the group is not a party to) took hold late last month. “Nusra supporters stormed a demonstration in Maarat Numan Friday, carrying black banners, but were drowned out by the protesters,” AP goes on to report. When Division 13 tried to drive them out of the city, Nusra simply took it over. Or at least that’s certainly how it sounds.

“In tweets posted in the morning on March 13, Division 13 said it had failed to push back an attack by al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, al-Nusra Front, and allied faction Jund al-Aqsa,” AFP said on Sunday.

They raided all our bases and looted our weapons and equipment,” the group said, flatly.

“We congratulate [al-Nusra chief Mohammad] al-Jolani on this conquest!” the group exclaimed, sarcastically on Twitter.  

Of course the tweets are far more amusing after Bing tries to translate them in their entirety. The following tweet (presumably the full version of the last one mentioned above) translates as: "All our offices raided and looted weaponry wish not this weapon in a prostitute to another faction and blessed llgolani this conquest!"

And here's another, in which Division 13 appears to call Jolani a "punk." 

But the only "punks" on Sunday were the FSA fighters. Around 40 members of Division 13 were reportedly kidnapped.

Meanwhile, Gen. Austin wants to restart the train and equip program in order to "fight ISIS". He now says Cent Command would focus on fewer soldiers and train them on "specific skills." 

I think the train and equip program was so fundamentally broken that it likely can’t be salvaged,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told The Hill. “We, with an enormous amount of oversight and lots of U.S. personnel on the ground, still couldn’t stop the weapons from getting into the hands of the wrong people. I just don’t think anything has changed on that front.” 

No, probably not. 

You're also reminded that back in November, Nusra released a video literally thanking the FSA commanders for supplying them with TOWs. So apparently, al-Jolani's forces are going to get their hands on American-made anti-tank weapons supplied to the FSA whether the FSA just gives them up, or whether Nusra simply has to take them by force.

“If it’s going to be the same conditions that were available last time, no,” Sen. Lindsey Graham(R-S.C.) added. “I’d like to know, what — are we going to limit their fighting just to ISIL?” 

Graham and John McCain don't want to limit the rebels to just attacking ISIS - they want to give them the leeway to fight Assad as well. “Oh, we’re telling them their first priority is ISIS or something like that. I know what they’re doing,” McCain said, in a thinly veiled swipe at The Pentagon and Obama for trying avoid angering the Russians.

Of course with Russia pulling out and with the ceasefire in place, it's not clear there'd be any need to shoot at Assad. Despite his skepticism, McCain said he wouldn't block a proposal to restart the program. “I am extremely skeptical, because I’ve seen the movie before,” he said. “But for me to say no, you can’t do any arm and train? That’s not right.

Are you sure John? Perhaps you should ask yourself who trained Omar the Chechen in Georgia and then rethink your position.

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