The al-Qaeda-allied Nusra Front has reportedly managed to disarm and kidnap 18 fighters returning to Syria from a U.S.-run train-and-equip program in Turkey. The Free Syrian Army is in negotiations with Nusra to secure the release of the fighters, who were members of a group called “Division 30.” The group’s leader, Nadim al-Hasan, and his deputy were among those captured.The Obama Administration launched an effort in May with the goal of training up to 5,400 “moderate” fighters to counter ISIS advances in Syria. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter testified in recent weeks that only 60 fighters had thus far been trained.The Pentagon has issued a curious non-denial denial, telling Reuters:
The Pentagon had seen the reports but had no information to provide, spokeswoman Commander Elissa Smith said.“While we will not disclose the names of specific groups involved with the Syria Train and Equip program, I can confirm that there have been no New Syrian Force personnel captured or detained,” she said.
But Reuters has more or less stuck to its original reporting.As we mentioned yesterday, despite both the supposed freedom the Iran deal gives the U.S. and the new aggressiveness of Turkey, the Administration still does not seem to have a coherent Syria strategy. We don’t have a plan for a no-fly zone, clarity on how we want to handle Assad, or, it seems, the gumption to make hard choices. What we did have was 60 very dangerous men.Until yesterday. Now it may be just 42.