Al Qaeda’s Syria wing said on Friday it had detained members of a Syrian rebel group who had just returned from U.S. training, in a direct challenge to Washington’s plan to train and equip insurgents to combat the hard-line Islamic State group.
In a statement that appeared to contradict comments from the Pentagon, Nusra Front said the men it was holding had entered Syria several days earlier and had been trained under the supervision of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Pentagon has denied that any of the initial group of around 60 U.S.-trained rebels known as the “New Syrian Force” had been abducted. The chief of staff of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State also cast doubt the report on Friday.
“All the information that we have is that none of the … new Syrian forces have been captured,” Marine Corps Brigadier General Kevin Killea said in a briefing with reporters.
Nusra Front described its captives as agents of America and warned others they should abandon the training programme. It also said the U.S.-led coalition had mounted air strikes against its positions during its battles with rebels.
Syrian opposition sources and a monitoring group said earlier this week that Nusra Front had detained the leader of the U.S-trained rebel “Division 30” and a number of its members. Nusra Front had yet to comment on those reports.
“We warn soldiers of (Division 30) against proceeding in the American project,” Nusra Front 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.”
One of the most powerful insurgent groups in northern Syria, Nusra Front has a record of crushing rebel groups that have received support from Western states, including the Hazzm movement that collapsed earlier this year.
The latest incident highlights the difficulties the United States faces in its efforts to train and equip rebels to fight Islamic State, which is a rival of Nusra Front.
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