New Batch of US-trained Fighters Enter Syria to Fight ISIL
September 21, 2015
Al Jazeera and Wire Services
A new group of 75 fighters -- recently trained and armed by the US and coalition forces in Turkey -- have crossed into northern Syria to join the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Before this new batch of fighters, the $500 million, US-led “train-and-equip” program had only managed to vet and train about 60 rebels to fight ISIL. More than a dozen of those already deployed have been killed or captured by the Nusra Front rebels.
New Batch of US-trained Fighters
Enter Syria to Fight ISIL: Report
Al Jazeera and Wire Services
(September 20, 2015) -- A group of 75 fighters, recently trained by US and coalition forces in Turkey, have entered northern Syria to join the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a monitoring group reported on Sunday.
The fighters entered Syria in a convoy of a dozen cars with light weapons and ammunition, under air cover from the coalition that has been carrying out strikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British human rights group, said on Sunday.
"Seventy-five new fighters trained in a camp near the Turkish capital entered Aleppo province between Friday night and Saturday morning," Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory, told Al Jazeera.
US officials on Sunday did not issue an immediate response to the report. On Wednesday, Gen. Austin Lloyd, who oversees the US campaign against ISIL, told Congress that four or five US-trained rebels were fighting in Syria. On Friday his spokesman, Col. Patrick Ryder, told reporters that four more had re-entered Syria since Austin spoke.
Abdel Rahman said the new group of US-trained fighters crossed through the Bab al-Salama border point, the main gateway for fighters and supplies heading into Aleppo province.
That supply route has been increasingly targeted by ISIL fighters seeking to cut off support to rival rebel groups who are also fighting against the Syrian regime.
Abdel Rahman said the group was deployed to support two other US-backed units, with most assigned to Division 30, the main unit for US-trained fighters, and others to a group called Suqur al-Jabal (Falcons of the Mountain).
Before this new batch of fighters, the US-led “train-and-equip” program had only managed to vet and train about 60 rebels to fight ISIL.
The $500 million program, based in Turkey, has been fraught with problems. More than a dozen of those already deployed with Division 30 have been killed or detained by the Nusra Front, an armed group affiliate with Al-Qaeda.
Some of the fighters have been released and returned to Turkey. The Nusra Front is still holding Nedim Hassan, the commander of the fighters who were detained in late July.
The Syrian Observatory also said that pro-government forces and opposition fighters had agreed to begin a ceasefire from midday on Sunday in three battleground districts.
The truce covers the two remaining Shia villages in Idlib province that are still in government hands and the opposition fighters' last stronghold near the Lebanese border, the town of Zabadani.
The cease-fire, the third such agreement negotiated since August, comes after intense fighting between rebels and pro-government forces in the areas, including at least seven suicide bombings in the villages.
But that truce didn’t stop the bloodshed in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city by population. The capital, Damascus, largely remains in government control.
At least 14 civilians, including seven children, were killed Sunday when rebels in Syria shelled a government-controlled neighborhood in the northern section of the city, the Syrian government said. The state news agency said the shelling took place in Aleppo's al-Midan neighborhood, once a center for the city's thriving Armenian community.
The Observatory also reported that 14 people were killed in the shelling, which it said took place early Sunday from a nearby rebel-controlled area. The group said government air raids on an adjacent neighborhood killed a child. The Observatory relies on a network of activists on the ground in Syria.
The group said civilians comprise at least 71,000 of the 220,000 people estimated killed in the Syrian conflict. Fighting began in 2011, as Arab spring protests spiralled into a rebellion across the country.
Separately, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must step down, but not necessarily immediately, upon reaching a settlement to end the country's civil war.
Speaking after talks in London with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on Saturday, Kerry said he was prepared to engage in talks to achieve a solution, but he questioned whether Assad was also ready to negotiate.
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