Air strikes target Nusra after kidnapping of Syrian rebels

US-led coalition air strikes target Al Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front after reports from inside Syria claims 20 opposition fighters, trained by Turkey and US, kidnapped by militant group

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based NGO that follows the war through on ground contacts, said on Friday that US-led coalition air strikes hit Nusra Front positions near the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo province.

The air strikes came after local sources reported that a group of 20 fighters,  known as “Division 30,” including opposition fighters recently jointly trained by US and Turkey and sent to region were disarmed and captured by Al Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front on Wednesday night.

The group, comprising of Turkmen commander Colonel Nedim Hasan and his deputy, along with 18 other fighters, had been deployed in the Malikiye region, west of the city of Aleppo's Azez district.

Overnight, the Nusra Front had launched an attack in the area targeting rebels including a group said by opposition sources who have been trained under a US-led programme to build a force to fight ISIS, the Observatory reported.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Thursday condemned the apparent kidnapping of the train-equip team, repeating Washington's position on the Nusra Front which, he said, "declared itself as an al-Qaeda affiliate and shares al-Qaeda’s terrorist aims."

“It’s hard for me to know what the details of this actual kidnapping were, but obviously we strongly condemn it," he added.

The Free Syrian Army is trying to persuade the Nusra Front to release the group, according to Anadolu Agency.

Fifty-four Syrian opposition fighters went back to Syria in July after they had finished their training in the US-Turkey programme.

Training Syrian opposition groups is part of the US plan to defeat ISIS militants who have seized swathes of Syria and Iraq since June last year.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar had agreed to help opposition groups to fight ISIS as well as battle the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al Assad. On May 25, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu announced that Turkey and the US had officially started a joint programme for training and equipping Syrian opposition fighters

Up to 1,000 US troops would participate in the training of the Syrian opposition according to the agreement signed by US and Turkey on Feb. 17.

The US and Turkey have also announced this week their intention to provide safe-zone for Syrian rebels and jointly fight ISIS militants from the Turkish-Syrian border land, with US warplanes using bases in Turkey, mainly Incirlik, for strikes.

A US-led coalition has been  targeting ISIS positions in Syria and Iraq since September 2014.

Earlier this year, Nusra Front’s positions had also been targeted reportedly by the coalition warplanes in Aleppo and Idlib provinces.

It is worthy to mention that the Nusra Front was the reason of the demise of the US-backed Hazzm Movement earlier this year after clashing between the two northwest of Syria.

TRTWorld and agencies