Train-and-equip Syrian fighters held by Nusra: Pentagon
WASHINGTON - Anadolu Agency
Rebel fighters demonstrate their skills during a military display as part of a graduation ceremony at a camp in eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria July 11, 2015. Reuters Photo
The U.S. Department of Defense has indications that members of the train-and-equip program for Syrian fighters have been detained by the al-Nusra Front in Syria, a Pentagon official admitted Aug. 4.
Since last week, reports from inside Syria have been claiming that al-Nusra has captured at least five fighters trained by the U.S. and coalition forces.
“We have indications members of the New Syrian Forces have been detained by al-Nusra Front in Syria,” U.S. Defense Department Spokeswoman Elissa Smith told Anadolu Agency.
“We are monitoring the situation but have no further details to provide,” Smith added.
Local sources said the Turkmen-dominated group of “train-and-equip” fighters were held by al-Nusra on Aug. 4.
Sources told Anadolu Agency that the Free Syrian Army was trying to persuade al-Nusra to release the group.
The al-Nusra Front is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations due to its purported links to al-Qaeda.
The train-and-equip program has been jointly organized by the U.S. and Turkey to help prepare Syrian opposition fighters in the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Bashar al-Assad regime.
A total of 54 Syrian opposition fighters went into the country earlier this month after they completed their training at the beginning of July.
A U.S.-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes against al-Nusra targets in Aleppo and Idlib since mid-September 2014.
The effort to train Syrian opposition groups is part of an overall campaign to defeat ISIL militants who have seized large parts of Syria and Iraq since June last year.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey agreed to help opposition groups not only fight ISIL but also battle al-Assad.
The U.S. and Turkey signed an agreement on Feb. 17 that allowed up to 1,000 U.S. troops to participate in the training.