Middle East

Syria crisis: US-trained rebels give equipment to al-Qaeda affiliate

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Al-Nusra fighters. Photo: July 2015 Image copyright AP
Image caption Al-Nusra fighters captured or killed many of the first recruits in the US scheme

A group of US-trained Syrian rebels has handed over their vehicles and ammunition to fighters linked to al-Qaeda, the US military has admitted.

It said one rebel unit had surrendered six pick-up trucks and ammunition to the al-Nusra Front this week - apparently to gain safe passage.

Congress has approved $500m (£323m) to train and equip about 5,000 rebels to fight against Islamic State militants.

But the first 54 graduates were routed by al-Nusra Front, the military said.

Gen Lloyd Austin told US lawmakers last week that only "four or five" US-trained rebels were still fighting.

'Programme violation'

"Unfortunately, we learned late today that the NSF (New Syrian Forces) unit now says it did in fact provide six pick-up trucks and a portion of their ammunition to a suspected al-Nusra Front (group)," Pentagon spokesman Cpt Jeff Davis said on Friday.

Meanwhile, Col Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for US Central Command (Centcom), said this happened on 21-22 September.

He added that the surrendered vehicles and ammunition amounted to roughly 25% of the equipment issued to the unit.

"If accurate, the report of NSF members providing equipment to al-Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train-and-equip programme guidelines," Col Ryder said.

The unit was part of some 70 rebel fighters who participated in the second US training course.

The train-and-equip programme is at an early stage, but this is just the latest in a series of setbacks, the BBC's Laura Bicker in Washington says.