When the Obama administration announced its plan to arm moderate rebel groups in Syria in an effort to stop ISIS’ rampage throughout the region, Senator Rand Paul warned that radical militant groups would likely seize the weapons and use them against the United States. Said Senator Paul on Fox News’ Hannity, “I’m not for arming radical jihadists, I’m not for arming radical Islam. And I think most of the weapons – either intentionally or unintentionally – that have been given to the Syrian rebels, have basically just gone on through to ISIS. If you give them to the moderate rebels – the so-called moderate rebels – that’s just a stopping point because ISIS takes them away.”
Now, International Business Times is reporting that Senator Paul’s prediction that American weapons would likely fall into the wrong hands may have come true. Over the weekend, al-Qaeda affiliated rebels with the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra defeated Harakat Hazm and the Syria Revolutionaries’ Front (SRF), two Free Syrian Army associated moderate rebel groups that were armed and trained by the US, after a five-day siege against the villages of Jabal al-Zawiya in Syria’s Idlib province. Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters, “Dozens of [Syria Revolutionaries’ Front leader Jamal Maarouf’s] fighters defected and joined Nusra, that is why the group won.”
Following the battle, Twitter accounts associated with al-Nusra began boasting that US-donated weapons and food aid had been seized. The list of spoils included TOW anti-tank missiles like those being fired by US-supported rebels in the above-embedded Telegraph video. The reported weapons seizure has yet to be verified by an independent source. An example report by Ar Raqqah Media, which claims that al-Nusra also seized tanks, trucks, ammo, and more during the battle, can be seen in the below screenshot.
While ISIS and al-Nusra are not officially allied and have battled each other in the past, CNN reported last month that US-led airstrikes have recently been blamed for encouraging the two groups to put aside their differences in strategy and form a coalition against the US and its allies. Raed al-Fares, a local activist in the Idlib province, told The Washington Post, “When American airstrikes targeted al-Nusra, people felt solidarity with them because Nusra are fighting the regime, and the strikes are helping the regime… Now people think that whoever in the Free Syrian Army gets support from the U.S.A. is an agent of the regime.”
Syrian analyst Aymen al-Tammimi told The Telegraph, “As a movement, the SRF is effectively finished…Nusra has driven them out of their strongholds of Idlib and Hama.” Now that the Syria Revolutionaries’ Front and Harakat Hazm have suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of al-Nusra, President Obama’s strategy of using moderate Syrian rebels as ground forces in a campaign against ISIS appears to be crumbling.