The United States has a bad habit of arming rebel factions that stand in opposition to its enemies. In countries where power-shifts are common (and allegiances are fragile), these plans can go sideways very quickly. It should come as no surprise that Syria is one of these SNAFUs, and that arms sent by the U.S. to arm rebels have ended up in the wrong hands.
Fox broke a story recently about just such a debacle. Equipment meant for Syrian rebel forces has ended up in the hands of Al Qaeda. “U.S. military equipment and ammunition, sent to Syria as part of a failed Obama administration plan to find and arm moderate forces to defeat ISIS, were instead simply handed over to an Al Qaeda group,” Fox writes.
Maj. Anas Ibrahim Obaid is also known as Commander Abu Zayd. He explained to Fox what had happened.
“I communicated with Al Qaeda’s branch, Al Nusra, to protect and safely escort me and my soldiers for two hours from North Aleppo to West Aleppo,” Maj. Anas Ibrahim Obaid said. “In exchange, I gave them five pickup trucks and ammunition.”
That clearly wasn’t the Department of Defense’s intention. Yet the DOD has little control over these independent groups once they have what they want. Abu Zayd told Fox that he was willing to arm fighters who could satisfactorily answer questions like “With which faction did you fight?” and “What do you think about ISIS?”
His first batch of 54 trainees crossed from Turkey into Syria where they (and their U.S. weapons) were immediately captured by Al Nusra militants.
Abu Zayd’s troubles were far from over. His men, who were paid just $250 a month, refused to fight. They defected. Abu Zayd was left alone, with the American weapons, so he used them as leverage.
“The Americans were so angry when they found out, they cut my salary,” Zayd said nonchalantly. “But this was our only option through their territory to get home without getting killed.”
“I got many messages the Americans do not want to deal with me anymore. But they can’t get their weapons back.”
The program which armed Abu Zayd was hardly unique. A second, “Timber Sycamore,” was started by the CIA in late 2012. “But Syrian opposition figures say this program was also compromised,” Fox reports, “with arms falling into the hands of ISIS or Al Nusra.”
Most of these weapons were small arms, though there were BGM-71 TOWs, too.
“We became optimistic we could overthrow the regime,” Asem Zidan, 27, formerly a media activist for the FSA’s Hazem, told Fox News. “And the TOW missiles helped us to prevent the regime pushing forward for some time … but it wasn’t enough.”