What really happened to the U.S. train-and-equip program in Syria?

McClatchy reports: When the first group of Syrians from a U.S.-trained force intended to combat the Islamic State crossed into their country from Turkey in mid-July, they arrived in uniform carrying M16 rifles, mortars and flak vests. But they had no expense money, little food and no clear idea of how they, just 54 men, were to do battle against the extremists.

Most had been in near-total isolation during their two months of training in Turkey and Jordan, and they wanted to see their families, many of whom had been under heavy government bombardment. And it was Ramadan, a month of fasting, so they voted to take a two-week break, according to their elected commander, a former Syrian army lieutenant colonel, Amin Ibrahim.

Disaster struck when the break was over and they were headed back to their base. On July 29, a day after U.S. aircraft had attacked an outpost of the Nusra Front, al Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, Nusra seized Col. Nedim Hassan – the commander of Division 30, the rebel unit in which the trainees were to be embedded – along with seven of his men.

Then on July 31, Nusra attacked the headquarters of the division in a battle that ended with U.S. airstrikes and ground intervention by Kurdish militias. As many as 50 Nusra members died in the fighting, according to some reports, but Nusra managed to seize 10 graduates of the so-called train-and-equip program.

Ten weeks later, the Pentagon announced that it had halted the program, which until that moment had been the keystone of the Obama administration’s policy to combat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, in Syria.

The program’s demise has been ascribed to a number of factors, including the participants, the Turkish intelligence agency MIT and a Syrian militia, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, better known as the YPG.

But a McClatchy investigation shows that the primary factor may well have been the United States itself, which conceived of a program that didn’t have the support of the people it was intended to train and was viewed with deep skepticism by its key training partner, Turkey. [Continue reading…]

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