Fiasco: U.S.-trained rebels in Syria are unaccounted for, may have been killed or deserted

Late-breaking news this afternoon from the tip of the smart-power spear:

How bad it is it? Bad enough that even Vox won’t try to spin for Obama on this one:


If you’re wondering what CNN means when it refers to the “remaining” U.S.-trained rebels in Syria, let me explain. Our grand effort to roll back ISIS there and eventually unseat Assad started a month ago with roughly 60 — no typo — fighters composing a group known as Division 30. A week ago, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, kidnapped seven members of Division 30; a day later they killed five more and wounded 18, cutting the group’s manpower in half. Among the people kidnapped, reportedly, was Division 30’s commander. In response, the group has … taken to Facebook to ask the Nusra Front to please leave them alone and focus on the common enemy.

Then came more news this morning:

A group of Syrian rebels that includes fighters trained by the United States have declared their refusal to fight al-Qaida’s affiliate in the country, the Nusra Front, following a series of kidnappings by the militant group.

A source in Division 30, which has endured a campaign of kidnappings by the Nusra Front, said they also oppose the American air strikes carried out in the last few days against the al-Qaida-linked fighters…

“With all the immense military power the US has at its disposal, the start to the mission is nothing short of an embarrassment and if it has any hope of succeeding, it needs to show results fast,” said Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center and an expert on Syrian insurgent groups.

That was the last news until CNN’s tweet, raising the question of what happened to the 30 remaining members of Division 30. Did they quit because the fight’s become too dangerous with Al Qaeda targeting them? Did they join the Nusra Front, perhaps? Or did Nusra murder all of them, hoping to make a statement about collaborating with America? “Working with Americans makes recruits a target,” the NYT noted last week, “not just of the Islamic State but also of the Nusra Front.” The more ruthless the jihadis are with Division 30, the stronger the message will be sent to future American recruits that they’re marked for death on all sides once they reach the battlefield. All of which, mind you, was entirely foreseeable: Realistically, what could a small band of a few dozen recruits be expected to achieve facing Assad’s troops on one side and two battle-hardened jihadi outfits on the other? And yet they were sent into the field anyway. Why?

In case you missed it last week, here’s the AP noting the other side of the Syria coin — that despite a year’s worth of sporadic bombing by the U.S., ISIS is no weaker now than when Obama first began targeting them a year ago. The new nuclear deal is horrible enough to probably ensure that Iran will be the biggest foreign policy failure of his presidency, but don’t draw any firm conclusions yet. After Libya and now this, there’s no telling how bad things might get over his last year and a half.

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