A report from Fox News on Tuesday outlines two programs initiated by the Obama administration to arm Syrian rebels in which some of the weapons actually ended up in the hands of al-Qaida members.
Maj. Anas Ibrahim Obaid — known on the battlefield as Abu Zayd and a commander with the Free Syrian Army — said in an exclusive interview with Fox News that the program was so poorly run, he not only handed over some U.S.-issued trucks and ammunition to al-Qaida, he continues to sell some of the weapons from the U.S. on the black market.
Zayd said he defected from the Syrian Army to the opposition in 2012. In 2015, the Obama administration launched a $500 million program through the Department of Defense to “train and equip” a new “ideologically moderate” force to battle ISIS.
Zayd claims that in order to receive weapons and training from the U.S., all rebels had to do was show proof of his association with any group that fought against ISIS and answer some basic questions. He claims the screening process was fairly lax.
According to Zayd, the U.S. recruited and trained 54 rebels who entered Syria from Turkey in July 2015. But the troops were almost immediately ambushed by al-Qaida-affiliated militants. Some rebels were killed, and the rest were ordered to hand over their weapons to the militants.
Zayd claims he was part of a second wave of 72 rebels who were trained to go into Syria, but the U.S. didn’t want to arm them prior to entering after what happened to the first group. Instead, they were told they would receive weapons inside the country. Zayd and the other rebels balked at the plan.
Once the weapons issue was resolved, Zayd and the other rebels began their next march into Syria. But when they reached the border, Turkish border guards found Syrian flags in the bags of the rebels, not the flags of the opposition group they supported.
Angry, the rebels returned to their U.S. trainers in Turkey. Before Zayd’s group could begin its mission, his group of rebels — who were being paid a salary of $250 a month by the Defense Department — decreased to roughly two dozen because so many lacked confidence in the U.S. plan.
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Zayd eventually decided to return to his Syrian hometown in Aleppo to fight the Syrian regime. But doing so meant he would have to move through territory controlled by Al Nusra, which is affiliated with al-Qaida.
“I communicated with al-Qaida’s branch, Al Nusra, to protect and safely escort me and my soldiers for two hours from North Aleppo to West Aleppo,” Zayd told Fox News. “In exchange, I gave them five pickup trucks and ammunition.”
U.S. officials were not happy to hear of Zayd’s deal.
“The Americans were so angry when they found out, they cut my salary,” Zayd added. “But this was our only option through their territory to get home without getting killed.”
Zayd said the Pentagon halted the troubled program about a month after his deal with Al Nusra. “I got many messages the Americans do not want to deal with me anymore. But they can’t get their weapons back,” he boasted.
Zayd is still in the FSA and continues to sell U.S. weapons on the black market.
According to the Fox report, a previous Obama administration program to arm rebels — “Timber Sycamore” — was started by the CIA in 2012. But the program didn’t provide adequate resources to the rebels, and they were unable to defeat Al Nusra militants. Once again, U.S. weapons ended up in the hands of al-Qaida.
President Donald Trump ended the program to arm Syrian rebels last July citing its ineffectiveness and a recommendation from then-CIA director Mike Pompeo. Fox News cites estimates of more that $1 billion being spent on the effort.
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