Al-Qaeda reportedly seizes US anti-tank rockets after defeating rival Syrian rebels

Al-Qaeda reportedly seizes US anti-tank rockets after defeating rival Syrian rebels
Jihadists with the Al-Qaeda affiliate known as the Al-Nusra Front took control of several villages in Syria’s Idlib province over the weekend and reportedly seized weapons from Western-backed moderate rebel groups.

Upwards of 80 American-made TOW anti-tank missiles reportedly were captured by Al-Qaed-linked fighters in Syria after Western-supported opposition groups were overrun or defected to Al-Nusra Front

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday that Al-Nusra fighters were successful with weekend advances that earned them control of the town of Khan Al-Sobol, as well as “most of the towns and villages of Al-Zaweyi Mountain in the countryside of Idlib,” citing unnamed sources described by the Observatory as reliable and trusted.

In addition to seizing the town of Khan Al-Sobol, the Al-Qaeda linked extremist group has also allegedly taken control over M’arshorin, M’sran, Dadikh, KafarBatikh and Kafruma, per the Observatory’s reporting, “where the Islamic battalions and Hazm are located.”

According to an article published late Sunday by the Washington Post, rebel commanders, activists and analysts in Syria corroborated reports that moderate rebels “either surrendered or defected” to Al-Nusra over the weekend upon the group’s advance, with area residents adding to the paper that the defeated groups handed over their weapons. This could be a serious blow to the Obama administration’s effort to create a significant opposition force capable of fighting the so-called Islamic State and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces. The US planned to arm and train at least 5,000 fighters from CIA-vetted moderate groups; however, the latest setback may complicate American efforts.

Reuters/Desmond Boylan

According to the Post, some Syrians are unwilling to join Western-backed opposition groups. “When American airstrikes targeted Al-Nusra, people felt solidarity with them because Nusra are fighting the regime, and the strikes are helping the regime,” Raed Al-Fares, an activist leader in Kafr Nabel, in Idlib, told the Post. “Now people think that whoever in the Free Syrian Army gets support from the U.S.A. is an agent of the regime.”

A day earlier on Saturday, the Observatory reported that militants belonging to the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, have traveled individually into Idlib province recently to assist with the Al-Nusra Front’s fight against the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, or SRF — an anti-government battalion that has reportedly received support from the United State and other western nations opposed to the Assad regime.

Al-Raqqah Magazine, an online media group that routinely posts updates about the Islamic State and Al-Nusra, said on Twitter early Monday that a trove of military goods including 10 tanks and more than 80 anti-tank, or TOW, missiles, were taken from the SRF.

The International Business Times reported that Al-Raqqah’s claims could not be independently verified, however, and AFP and Al-Jazeera both said it wasn’t clear where the allegedly seized weapons had originated from. Al-Jazeera and the Post both acknowledged, however, that the Hazm movement is indeed among the anti-Assad groups that has been handed US-made weapons in the past, including anti-tank missiles, which could now be in the hands of Al-Nusra and Islamic State fighters despite a multi-nation effort to eradicate the former organization amidst an intensifying campaign of violence in Iraq and Syria.

“Hussam Omar, a spokesman for Harakat Hazm, refused to confirm whether American weaponry had been captured by the Al-Qaeda affiliate because, he said, negotiations with Jabhat al-Nusra are underway,” Liz Sly wrote for the Post. Hazm, Sly reported, has received “small arms and ammunition alongside non-lethal aid in the form of vehicles, food and uniforms from the United States and its European and Persian Gulf Arab allies grouped as the Friends of Syria alliance.”

If either Al-Nusra or the so-called Islamic State has indeed successfully seized American-provided weapons, then it wouldn’t be the first time in recent weeks that efforts to equip moderate rebels intent on eliminating those groups have backfired for the US. Last month, Pentagon spokesman Army Colonel Steve Warren said a bundle of weapons the military had air dropped in the region “probably fell into enemy hands.” That same week, the Islamic State published a video showcasing what they called “some of the military equipment that was dropped by American forces.”